Friday, June 30, 2006

Opening Weekend with the Lake Monsters

This is an article yours truly did and was published in this week's edition of the Vermont Times.

The sun was out, the bats were cracking, and over the weekend at Centennial Field in Burlington, it was the beginning of a new area in Vermont baseball as the Vermont Lake Monsters opened up their 2006 home season against the Tri-City Valley Cats.

The Single A affiliate of the Washington Nationals made a major change back in November, changing the nickname of the team from the Expos to the Lake Monsters. The change was made as a result of the parent club’s move from Montreal to Washington in 2004, and the team wanted to break away from the old club, and start a new tradition with the new name. Back in November, General Manager C.J. Knudsen told me the new name reflects the character and tradition of the Champlain Valley, and incorporates the legend of the mythical sea creature “Champ” that lives in the waters of Lake Champlain.

The nickname change added to the excitement of another Opening Day at the 100 year old ballpark. Many fans told me they were excited about the opening of the season, and could not wait to spend some quality time watching the Lake Monsters. John Anderson of Waitsfield told me, “I am still getting used to the new name, and I know I will still call them the Expos for a long time. I just hope the new name will bring a better team to the field this year.” Anderson said this as his kids were nipping at his heels asking Dad if they could have a hot dog and a Coke.

As per tradition, both teams had their rosters introduced, and the Lake Monsters took the mike from C.J. and introduced themselves to the announced crowd of 3,814, and of course slapped hands with Champ while running onto the field. The loudest cheers were reserved for returning fan favorites Brandon Conway and Mike Daniel, along with manager Jose Auguacil who returned to the team the previous Friday after a change in the organization moved manager Edgar Caceras to manage the Potomac ballclub in the organization.

While there have been changes in the name and logo of the team, some things will just never change. Back with the team are the front office staff, along with longtime PA announcer Rich Haskell. Haskell returns to the mike for his 13th year with the team, a tenor that has seen him miss only one game. Rich told me the only time he missed a game was the third game of his first season, but he did have a good excuse; his wife was giving birth to their only child across the street at Fletcher Allen. Of course, the Expos(oops, Lake Monsters) beloved mascot Champ is back to get the fans riled up, and keep the kids occupied while their parents ponder which of the players will eventually make it to the major leagues. The in between innings promotions remain the same with games like Human Bowling, the frozen t-shirt contest, and Champ shooting t-shirts into the stands with his trusted shooter. (Although in game two of the series, the thing did misfire, and one t-shirt traveled a grand total of about six inches, drawing laughs from the crowd.)

A few of the other changes the team has made come in the form of the concessions and entertainment for the kids. The team has jazzed up its speed pitch game, and added a bouncy tent where kids can get all of their energy out by bouncing up and down for three minutes at the cost of just a buck. The food, which has always been good and very reasonably priced, now features the Monster Dog, and a pulled pork sandwich that will have your stomach begging for another one, two, or three. Longtime on-field emcee Jamie Scavatto has been replaced by “Rockin Ruby” as Scavatto has moved on to devote more time to his duties in the sports department at Channel Five.

The highlight of the second game of the series had to be when a three year old boy threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Now, this was something for the books. Here is this tiny kid, playing catch with the players before the game, being chased around by the players, and throwing some balls that would rival tosses of mine. Of course, when he threw the first pitch, it was a strike, and drew the loudest ovation of the night from the crowd of about 3,200.

On the field, well, it was not a good weekend for the Monsters as they dropped the first two games of the series in pretty ugly fashion. Opening night, the Lake Monsters dropped an 8-4 decision, a game that saw two Tri-City runners score from second on wild pitches, and an assortment of mental and physical errors lead to a very unhappy manager and fans. The bright spot was Brandon Conway, who came into the game with a lifetime batting average of .160. In the second, Conway hit a three run shot, his first in 222 lifetime at bats. This could be a make or break year for Conway, as if you can’t hit above .200, regardless of defensive prowess, you won’t be in baseball for very long. After the game, Manager Jose Auguacil said he was disappointed with the play of the team and said, “We will not have this type of performance again.” Well, he shouldn’t have said that, as on Saturday night, the Lake Monsters dropped a 7-5 decision to Tri-City in a game that saw the Lake Monsters snag defeat from the jaws of victory. The Lake Monsters held a 5-4 lead going into the seventh after scoring four in the bottom of the sixth. In the top of the seventh, the bullpen fell apart again with the Monsters giving up four runs in the inning. On the night, the relief pitching was not up to par, and the defense was sloppy with Vermont committing four errors. The poor defense, and pitching had manager Jose Auguacil quite angry with his players, as he went straight to the clubhouse with his team. After about 15 minutes, one member of the Lake Monsters staff came out of the clubhouse shaking his head and said, “Man, I am so glad I am not a player right now.” About five minutes earlier when someone was coming out of the clubhouse, I could hear Auggie yelling in a couple of different languages at his players. Some of the words cannot be repeated in a family publication.

Game three of the series turned out to be much better for the Lake Monsters as they pulled out a 3-2 victory over Tri-City. Brandon Conway continued his hot hitting with a two RBI single in the fourth, and Mike Daniel added an RBI triple. Of course, it got dicey in the ninth as Tri-City put two on with one out, but Juan De Los Santos was able to get Christopher Johnson to ground into a game inning double play, and for the first time this year, the famous victory balls were thrown into the stands to celebrate the victory. Before the game, Auggie told me he had some words for the team following the previous night’s game. He said the team needs to focus on the fundamentals and getting the job done. He said this is a very good ball club and they just need to play together. With the way the team played on Sunday night, it looks like they listened.

This was Little League Day at the ballpark with Little Leaguers from all over the area getting discounted tickets to attend the game. Before the game, the players and coaches paraded around the park to the cheers of the 3,200 on hand. Before the game, Lake Monsters players took a tremendous amount of time to take pictures with and sign autographs for the kids and parents. Brandon Conway told me he enjoys Little League Day and feels it is his responsibility as a professional ball player to be a role model for the kids. Conway said, “Being a role model is important to me. It wasn’t too long ago that I was one of these kids asking for autographs. Some of the smaller kids are really shy, but they warm up to you.” Conway’s statement is one that was repeated by many of the players. Lake Monsters players seem to enjoy the interaction with the fans, and take the time to say a few words to each kid that asks for their signature.

After the game, it was pure chaos on the field as it was “Have a Catch Night”. Can you imagine about 200 kids on the field, playing catch with their parents, and having free baseballs flying around? While I was walking around taking pictures, I thought I was going to need a helmet to avoid getting nailed in the noggin. One parent told me being able to play catch on the field with his son is one of the highlights of the season. “These guys do such a great job getting the fans into the game and doing things like this. It isn’t too often that a professional team allows a bunch of kids to play catch on the field. What a great experience for them.”

One final note, I was grabbing some fries in between innings, and one of the vendors I had talked to asked me how the story was going. One fan piped in and said, “Make sure you mention in your article how wonderful the players and staff are. We love coming to the games because they are all so nice and have so much to do when the kids get bored. Where else do players actually sign autographs without asking for money?” Ah yes, you have to love Centennial and the Lake Monsters.

Canseco is back.....HUH????

As I said in a post this morning, it looks like Jose Canseco is back in action and will be playing with the San Diego Surf Dawgs of the Golden Baseball League. Canseco, who has admitted to using steroids in his major league career will suit up and play in his first game on Monday against Chico as the DH and will PITCH this season.

I just got off the phone with Brian Watkins, the General Manager of the Surf Dawgs for his take on Canseco's signing. Watkins told me he had heard that Canseco was playing in a men's league up in Long Beach and was hitting the ball very well. He thought Canseco would be a great addition to the team, so he was approached, and soon after was signed to a contract that will pay Canseco the league minimum of $2,500 a month. Canseco actually mentioned he would like to pitch for the team, the team didn't ask specifically about that when they started talking. As some may remember, Canseco pitched while he was with Texas and promptly threw out his arm.

Brian did tell me the league has a no-tolerance policy when it comes to steroids. Nine players were banned from the league for the use of steroids last season. He also told me the signing of Canseco will be good for the league, good for the fans, and will help to attract attention to the fact there is minor league baseball in San Diego. Yes folks, this is a publicity stunt of epic proportions.

Why? Why in the world would a team want to sign Canseco other than for publicity? Canseco has admitted to using steroids during his major league career and seems to be known more for that than the fact he hit over 400 homers in the major leagues, is a former AL Rookie of the Year and AL MVP. If Canseco actually plays the field, I wonder if he will have another ball bounce off his noggin and into the seats.....

The league needs help as far as attendance, but it shouldn't need it this bad. San Diego signed Ricky Henderson last year, but Henderson at that time could still play the game. Canseco on the other hand doesn't have a prayer of making it back to the bigs. His reputation is tainted, and there is no way a major league team will pick him up, even if he can hit balls into Tijuana. I wonder if a ball goes into Tijuana if it needs a passport.......

The world must be ending......

From the website of the San Diego Surf Dawgs.......Steroid boy is back?? He is pitching?? Good Lord Jose, GIVE UP!!!!!!!!!! I love the part of the release that calls him "A longtime sports and pop cultural icon." (Coffee shot out of my nose at a record speed when I saw that one.)

Just when I thought I didn't have much to talk about on the show this week.......

6/29/2006(Pleasanton, CA. June 30, 2006) The Golden Baseball League announced today that former American League Rookie of the Year, MVP, and Home Run Champion Jose Canseco has agreed to contract terms with the league and will join the San Diego Surf Dawgs beginning Monday, July 3rd and will play in the game that night at 7:05 PM versus the Chico Outlaws in Chico, CA.

A press conference is scheduled for Monday, July 3rd at 2:00 PM at Nettleton Stadium, located on the Chico State Campus in Chico, California.

Canseco will have a dual role with the Surf Dawgs as he will become an every day Designated Hitter for the team, and will showcase his knuckleball as member of the team’s pitching staff.

“We are thrilled that Jose has decided to become a member of the Golden Baseball League,” said GBL President Amit Patel. “We strive to provide a high quality entertainment product, and Jose will undoubtedly be entertaining for our fans.”

Canseco, 41, has had a spectacular professional baseball career. In seventeen big league seasons he was named Rookie of the Year and American League MVP, was selected as a member of six All-Star teams, and played in four World Series -- winning championships with the 1989 Oakland Athletics and 2000 New York Yankees. This will be his second stint in a professional Independent League. He previously played for the Newark Bears in the Atlantic League in 2001 and had his contract purchased by the Chicago White Sox.

“We are excited to be the venue Jose has selected to prove to major league organizations that he can still be an asset to a big league ball club,” said GBL Commissioner Kevin Outcalt. “His signing provides yet another opportunity for the league to give our fans and our communities a great baseball experience.”

“I’m excited to have Jose on the team, for both his playing abilities and for his veteran leadership,” said San Diego Surf Dawgs Manager Terry Kennedy. “We can use his offensive power to get us into the playoffs to defend our title, and I’m very interested in seeing him pitch to see if he can help us there as well.”

A longtime sports and pop culture icon, Canseco’s notoriety raised to record heights in 2005 with the publication of his autobiographical best seller “Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big” that detailed steroid use in professional baseball. Now weighing a sleek 230 pounds, down almost 30 pounds from his playing days, he has agreed to be subjected to the GBL’s tough drug testing policy that immediately expels any players found using steroids or illegal drugs. Last season nine players, out of over 200 tested, were terminated from the league for illegal drug use. “Jose will be treated consistent with all of our players regarding drug testing,” added Outcalt.Canseco will be playing for the league maximum of $2500 per month. He will also be entering into a marketing agreement with the Golden Baseball League which includes a special Jose Canseco apparel line and interactive events with fans and kids at all of the League’s ballparks.“I’m looking forward to having fun in professional baseball again, as I’ve really missed it,” said Canseco. “I love what this league is doing for players, communities, and families, and I want to be part of it. Rickey had a great experience with the Surf Dawgs last year and it will be great playing for Terry Kennedy and reminding him of the stomping my A’s gave his Giants in the ’89 World Series!”

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Random babble........

First of all, I applaud the vote shooting down a proposed Constitutional ammendment that would make the burning of the flag illegal. While I would never do it myself, burning the flag is a way we can show our disapproval of the US government. Hey, if the KKK still has free speech, why can't burning the flag still be seen as legal?

Andrea Yates should be burned at the stake and tortured for what she did to her children. She admitted it, so why the retrial? Give me a break.

The surgically repaired knee is still in a state of disrepair. I have been referred to a specialist, but the specialist can't see me until August. I shall now continue my steady diet of ice and Aleve, which I take by the dozen.

Did you see the meltdown of the minor league manager the other night?? YOWZERS!!!! Man, that guy must have taken lessons from Earl Weaver, Lou Pinella, and Billy Martin. The base throw and the "cleaning" of the plate had me dying with laughter.

The Red Sox cannot be stopped, that is all there is to it. Ten straight wins, Papi is tearing it up, and the Yankees are going down. Class move on the part of Sox fans last night when they gave Pedro a standing ovation. Pedro was just phenominal when he was with the Sox and deserved every bit of adulation he received.

Finally, best wishes to one of the icons of sports journalism, Peter Gammons, who is recovering from surgery to repair a brain anurysm. Gammons is the most knowledgeable of the baseball writers out there, and is a class act. Get well soon Peter, and we will see you back on ESPN sometime soon.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Sox and Steroids

The fun continues in Major League Baseball with the disclosure in an ESPN the Magazine article by Amy Nelson that former Red Sock pitcher Paxton Crawford took steroids while with the club. In the article, which is on newsstands now, Crawford goes into great detail as to the drugs he used, why he used them, how they were administered, and that other players in the Sox clubhouse knew of his drug use and seemed to blow it off. Crawford, and to his credit, did not name names, says there were others on the team who were using performance enhancing drugs. In the article, Crawford says he started using steroids to help his recovery from a back injury. He said when he started using a drug called Winstrol, he saw his fastball jump about four miles an hour in speed and his breaking pitches had a sharper break on them. (Quote at the end of the article)

Teammates of Crawford’s have strongly denied that others were using drugs in the Red Sox clubhouse. In an interview with John Tomase of the Boston Herald, former Red Sock Jeff Frye said, “I would say most of the guys on the team wouldn’t even remember who Paxton Crawford was, that’s how little he was there,” I think Paxton’s a guy that probably saw things a little differently than everyone else.” Former third baseman John Valentin told Tomase, ““He wasn’t with us very long in 2001,” Valentin said. “For him to speculate that the team was doing steroids, how would he even know, per se, if he’s a young player?”

Folks, I have bad news for you…..This whole thing with steroids and performance enhancing drugs is just getting uglier and uglier by the SECOND!!! It was once thought, and being totally uneducated on the subject I thought the same thing, that pitchers would not benefit from the use of steroids and other drugs and man I am wrong. Doctors say that using human growth hormones and steroids helps to aid in recovery time. In an article by Buster Olney in the same issue of ESPN the Magazine, former pitcher and current ESPN analyst Orel Hershiser says, “A 32 year old pitcher using steroids can jump back ten years in time.” Yes, the drugs do help pitchers. Again, according to Crawford, the drugs helped add speed to his fastball and increase the break on his curveballs. Yes, this is a problem that must be solved now, but now isn’t quick enough. These guys are cheating and in many cases, there isn’t a way for them to get caught as there is not a reliable test out there to detect the drugs. Of course, the union will not consent to blood tests, so it is like they are denying there is a problem, or even worse are enabling their players to cheat. This must be stopped. I happen to agree with Keith Olbermann who said baseball needs to shut down the season until they come up with a solution to the issue. These are drugs that will ruin players’ lives through roid rage, and the countless other physical and psychological problems the drugs can cause with long term use. Baseball has a problem with cheating and I want it to stop now.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Opening Day with the Mountaineers

First of all, my sincere apologies to Brian Gallagher, the General Manager of the Mountaineers. I posted this yesterday with some incorrect information, and in reading his comments on the piece, realized the tone was not what I intended it to be. For this, you have my apologies, and the promise I will proofread for more than grammar the next time.

At long last, with rain clouds up above, and teeth chattering, the Vermont Mountaineers of the New England Collegiate Baseball League were able to get their home season underway. As a bit of background, the NECBL has been called by some as being a step behind the Cape Cod League as far as talent goes, with others, including some in Major League Baseball saying the talent level is very much equal. These are kids who are still in college, and are looking for a chance to show off for the big league scouts. One note about the league is they play with wooden bats. In the NECBL, you will not hear the obnoxious ting of aluminum. Wooden bats are used so players can better prepare themselves for the professional ranks. The players are not paid, and are housed by volunteers throughout Central Vermont. Only the coaching staff and the General Manager are paid a small stipend for their season of work. Along with the Central Vermont setting, this team seems to fit into what makes Vermont so unique; its ability to bring people together who just want to play and work hard, but do all of it outdoors.

The fans in Montpelier are something else, and other teams fans should model those of the Mountaineers. The fans know their stuff, know the game, and at one point did something one doesn’t see very often; cheering for the opposing team. After a sixth inning Pittsfield home run, I swear, the cheers for the opposing player was as strong as it would be for a Mountaineer. The fans here have class, which is something one will not see in Major League parks, or for that matter, some minor league parks. Recreation Field is in Montpelier, Vermont, the smallest state capital in the US. With a population of only 9,000, Montpelier's other claim to fame is the fact it is the only state capital that does not have a McDonalds. There are a couple of chain stores in this quiet little city that has close to no crime, but you cannot get a Big Mac in Montpelier which leads to its charm. Vermonters believe in keeping things small, and local. Larger corporations can get their money in other places, Vermont prefers to keep theirs at home so they can support local businesses. The Statehouse sits right in the middle of downtown, and craft stores and other smaller businesses line the streets. Recreation Field is set back off of Elm Street, in a residential area of the city. The parking is limited, so there are always free shuttle busses running from various parts of town.

The park itself is one you would expect to see back in the days of baseball where there wasn't a steroid controversy, and astro turf wasn't even a thought. The park seats about 1,500 or so in one of those old fashioned covered grandstands. On many nights, you can catch fans sitting on lawn chairs down the first and third base side, which gives the kind of homey feeling to the park. Of course, one can still get their fill of hot dogs, chicken dinners, and every piece of merchandise one can eat, or wear for that matter. The park itself is surrounded by the trees that have made Vermont so famous. Being in such a wooded area makes you step back a bit, and really enjoy kicking back with a hot dog and soda(No beer, this is a family friendly environment.) and watching some good baseball.

As this was Opening Day, the usual pre-game festivities with introductions of both rosters, the mascot, and the team sponsors taking place. The mayors of both Barre and Montpelier threw out ceremonial first pitches, along with sponsors and a couple of kids as well. Once the festivities were out of the way, we were ready to play some baseball. The Mountaineers took an 11-4 decision over Pittsfield(MA) on a strong nine strikeout performance by Chris Freidrich. Of course, being college kids, there were five errors, a few wild pitches and passed balls, along with some braindead baserunning by both teams, but that was here nor there. In between innings, the mascot was holding court, and the usual antics with kids running through cones and throwing baseballs for prizes kept the announced crowd of 1,224 well occupied when the game started getting ugly on both the field, and when the temperature dropped again.

I will be doing more of these types of things as the season goes on for both the Mountaineers and the Lake Monsters. I will be working for both over the course of the season, as well as my writing duties for the Vermont Times, and my duties with ESPN Radio.

A plug for a local business

Check these guys out over at These guys are a mobile coffee service that has everything you would expect to see at Muddy Waters, or any of the local shops, but they come to you!!! Erik was kind enough to make me a nice Cafe Mocha that made getting up at 4:30 all the more tolerable. Erik and the woman he was with(Sorry, I spaced on her name) are really nice people, so check them out, and help support a local business who will help get you through your day.

Monday, June 12, 2006

A little self promotion......


The ALS Association of Northern New England is pleased to announce the appointment of Chris Fells as the Corporate Chair, and John Keshavan, Vice President with Chittenden Bank, as the Walk Chairman for this year’s Burlington Walk to D’Feat ALS. The walk takes place on Saturday September 16th at Burlington’s Oakledge Park. According to Development Director Karen Bugler, the walk hopes to raise over $35,000 for patient services, advocacy, and equipment for those who suffer from ALS.

Fells, who is the Sports Director for ESPN 1070 in Burlington, and ESPN 1490 in Middlebury says he is honored to be named to this position. Fells said of his appointment, “I have worked with the ALS Association for the last couple of years, and am looking forward to helping raise as much money as we can for this cause. My uncle passed away from ALS on April 16, 2005, so this is a personal mission of mine to end the disease.”

Fells has also issued a challenge to the listeners of his weekly show on WFAD in Middlebury. If the Yankee fans in audience can out fundraise the Sox fans, Fells will do pretty much anything the Yankee fans want him to do…Within reason and within the bounds of the law. An early suggestion is for Fells to do an entire show on the Yankees, without saying anything negative about the team. This is a feat that Fells calls, “Close to impossible, but I will do whatever it takes.” Fells has a personal goal to raise $5,000 for ALS.

The ALS Association of Northern New England is also proud to announce that ESPN 1070 WTWK, and ESPN 1490 WFAD will be the radio sponsors of the event. For more information on sponsorship opportunities, or to volunteer for the walk, please contact Karen Bugler at 866-257-6663.

Friday, June 09, 2006

One more thing.......

As many of you know, I have been involved with the ALS Association of Northern New England for the past couple of years. As mentioned in a previous post, my beloved uncle passed away from the disease on April 16th, 2005, and I am devoted to help in any way I can to find a cure for the disease. Today I was honored to be named Corporate Chair of this year's Walk to D'Feat ALS in Burlington. If there is anyone out there who would like to volunteer for this year's walk, make a donation, or lend support in any other way, please make a comment on this post, and I will make sure to get back to you.

My personal goal this year is to raise $5,000.00 for ALS research. Please go to and click on the walk link on the left hand side. Go to Burlington Walk, and make a donation towards my goal, the name of the team is "Fells Finishers".

The latest baseball scandal

Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse for Major League Baseball, they did. It was disclosed yesterday that Jason Grimsley of the Arizona Diamondbacks had his home searched by federal agents, and has now admitted to the use of Human Growth Hormones. (HGH) In this investigation, Grimsley has admitted to the use and receipt of steroids, amphetamines, and HGH for the purpose of enhancing his on-field performance. He then provided details on other athletes who have used these drugs.

There are a few issues in the latest black mark against Major League Baseball. First of all, MLB has known there is a problem with HGH, but as there is not a reliable test for the drugs, there has not been an effort to enhance testing, or work to develop a reliable test. Secondly, one of the big questions is who will be implicated in this case? Will Barry Bonds finally have his name formally attached to allegations of the use of performance enhancing drugs? Who else will be named, and what are the consequences and ramifications for Major League Baseball? Are we now talking lifetime bans for those who use these drugs, and what in the world will be done about this?

Grimsley is a fringe ballplayer whose career is now over. Now that he has implicated current and possibly former players, he will never be able to even coach Little League. His name will forever be associated with ratting out other players and could end their careers as well. I do have to give Grimsley credit for doing what he did. Yes, he was under just a little bit of pressure with FBI agents hounding him and asking him about his and the others involvment in this mess. At least he had the guts to give names, and I hope that something is done about performance enhancing drugs not just in baseball, but in sports as a whole.

What do I propose? I propose a ZERO tolerance policy for steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. If you are caught, and I don't care what caliber of player you are, you are gone. Gone, done, bye-bye, and hasta la vista baby, you are banned from baseball for life. I know, I know, there is the pressure to succeed, and the pressure to win titles and put more Ben Franklins in their pockets, but it has to be done based on natural ability and hard work; not by using drugs to get ahead. What sort of message is this sending to the kids who want to play in the Major Leagues? It tells them that ability doesn't mean squat!! All one has to do is work out a bit, and take loads of drugs and that will make them millions. Forget working at it, just cheat, that is all it takes!! Good Lord.......

Another question is if Grimsley will spend time in jail for his alleged possession, distribution of illegal drugs, and the allegation he laundered money as well. I think he does need to serve time if for no other reason than to send a message that this type of activity simply will not be tolerated. Even though Grimsley says he will retire, he needs to be served with a lifetime ban from baseball on both the major and minor league levels. I want to make sure he does not represent the game I have coached, played, umpired, and will cover for as long as I am around. I love this game. I love baseball as much as I do anything with the exception of my beautiful wife and my family. (Sorry baseball gods, nothing comes before them.) I grew up watching games and wished I could play professionally. Alas, with bad wheels and the inability to hit a curveball, I will only be playing slow pitch softball. I do not want to see yet another black mark be placed on the game I love.

More on the show on Saturday at 9:00 on WFAD.