Wise Guy On Stage, Mets Fan In Real Life

Mets OF Curtis Granderson with the cast of Dinner With The Boys

Mets OF Curtis Granderson with the cast of Dinner With The Boys

When you meet actor Ray Abruzzo, you still think “Sopranos,” and when standing around a batting cage, baseball bats may have a different meaning with wise guys than when they are in the proper hands of the home standing Mets (Remember DeNiro playing Al Capone on “The Untouchables”?). But the veteran actor was all baseball on Monday night, when he and his fellow cast members from the new Off-Broadway play “Dinner With The Boys” paid a pregame visit to Citi Field as the Mets opened a series with the St. Louis Cardinals.

“My first memories of what was Shea Stadium was the year it opened, 1964,” the Queens native said. “We came to a doubleheader against the Giants, my mom was working across the street at the World’s Fair, and the two games went on forever. We stayed to the end I will never forget it.”

Neither will Mets fans, it turns out, as that doubleheader Abruzzo referred to, May 31, 1964, ended up being the longest doubleheader in terms of time and innings in baseball history, with the second game going 23 innings and the visiting Giants winning both ends, 5-3 and then 6-4. His knack for attending long games didn’t stop on Monday, as the Mets took 14 innings to oust the Cardinals 2-1, with the cast staying all the way through, even though it was their only off night of the week from performing.

Abruzzo is putting in a marathon of himself these days, doing eight shows a week with Dan Lauria and Richie Zavaglia in the comedy at the Acorn Theater, which is billed as a fun takeoff on wise guys, almost a lighthearted look at the dark comedy that he was part of for so many years on HBO where he played “Little Carmine” to such rave reviews.

Despite spending so much time in Los Angeles, Abruzzo remains loyal to his Mets, and got a great kick out of meeting Mookie Wilson while standing around the batting cage on Monday night.

“Man, 1986 seems like yesterday, and when that ball went through Buckner’s legs…,” he laughed and smiled when chatting with Wilson.  As far as this year’s team goes, like many Mets fans he seems optimistic. “They are young, fun to watch and have pitching like the old days I remember growing up,” he added. “In this town we love our baseball, and when the Mets, and the Yankees, are good it can be so much fun.”

Fun is also what “Dinner With The Boys” is bringing nightly to the Acorn Theater, with Mets fans and Yankees fans alike turning out to see the show that opened May 4. Hopefully come October both Abruzzo’s regular show and the one he likes to follow in Queens will still be running. For details on the play visit   http://dinnerwiththeboysplay.com/

Yankee Dynasty Started With Hall Of Famers Ruppert, Huggins

ColonelAndHugBabe Ruth gets due credit for his well-known role in turning the Yankees from second fiddle in the Big Apple to what would be the biggest success story in sports. But despite their enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Yankees owner Colonel Jacob Ruppert and manager Miller Huggins have received vastly disproportionate accolades for having launched the transformation. And while Ruth’s play on the field and larger-than-life personality off it have been the subject of dozens of books (and two mostly regrettable feature films), Ruppert’s and Huggins’s stories have rarely been prominently featured.

Steve Steinberg and Lyle Spatz have done their part to remedy that in The Colonel and Hug (University of Nebraska Press, 521 pps., $34.95), positioning the duo as integral to the first sustained Yankees success. It was the Colonel’s commitment to putting the best team on the field regardless of the cost (sound familiar, Yankees fans?) and his “Mite Manager’s” resolve that laid the groundwork before Ruth’s exploits put Murderer’s Row over the top.

Steinberg and Spatz reveal more than a few interesting notes along the way, including the Colonel’s pursuit of Joe Jackson, Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins and other stars; had any of these been successful, Ruth may have never even been a Yankee. Or, imagine a Yankee outfield of Jackson and Ruth (with no 1919 Series to throw, Jackson’s story would clearly have been far different).

All of the familiar Yankees characters of the era are integral to Colonel and Hug, from Ruth to Gehrig and even DiMaggio towards the end of Ruppert’s days. And new life is breathed into the likes of Fritz Maisel (did the Yankees really reject a Maisel-for-Shoeless Joe deal? And we’re lauded for it?), Ban Johnson, John McGraw and plenty of others.

Huggins was a product of the dead ball era, a 5’6″ shortstop who hit a grand total of nine home runs in nearly 7000 plate appearances in 13 Big League seasons for the Reds and Cardinals. After five years as St. Louis skipper, the first four as player-manager, Hug was brought over by Ruppert, who had not met the diminutive Huggins but who liked his style immediately.

Though of quite different backgrounds — Ruppert was the heir to a dominant brewery, politician and member of the social elite, while Huggins had more hardscrabble roots — they shared a desire to win, were lifelong bachelors and teamed to put together a franchise that dominated for decades.

There is recognition of the two titans at Monument Park at the Yankee Stadium not built by the duo (a monument in honor of Huggins and a plaque for Ruppert), dwarfed in size by that of the other owner to bring a seemingly failed manager — Joe Torre — from St. Louis and win multiple titles eight decades later in George Steinbrenner. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of fans walk past those remembrances before every Yankee home game, the large majority blissfully unaware of what those two men’s contributions meant to the century of success since.

Perhaps Steinberg and Spatz’s work can change that.

Mets GM Sandy Alderson To Discuss Team, New Book Saturday At Yogi Berra Museum

Fred Wilpon and Sandy Alderson

Fred Wilpon and Sandy Alderson

With big expectations for the 2015 season and the team off to a fine 6-3 start at press time, New York Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson will be discussing the team he has rebuilt at the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center in Little Falls, N.J., on Saturday at 2 p.m.

Alderson, the subject of a much-discussed new book, Baseball Maverick: How Sandy Alderson Revolutionized Baseball and Revived the Mets, will attend with bestselling author Steve Kettmann, with whom he cooperated on the book.

Alderson took over the Mets in 2010 with the team in turmoil. After suffering an embarrassing September collapse and two bitter losing seasons, the Mets were in even worse trouble off the field. The Wilpons, the team’s principal owners, were embroiled in the largest financial scam in American history. To help revive the franchise, they turned to Alderson, a former marine who served in Vietnam and graduated from Harvard Law, and had helped pioneer using statistical analysis with the Oakland A’s in the late 1980s. When new owners slashed payroll in the 1990s, Alderson’s creativity was thrust into the spotlight. Alderson’s renewal of the Mets, despite a limited budget, has come through big trades that brought back high-profile prospects and the development of young aces including Matt Harvey, Zach Wheeler, and Jacob deGrom. Without question, the widespread perception is changing about the Mets, who are now a competitive and up-and-coming team.

To RSVP for the Alderson event call (973) 655-2378. Books available for purchase at the Museum.

Marucci Sports Names Bat Industry Icon Chuck Schupp To Top Big League Player Relations Position

Chuck Schupp

Chuck Schupp

Marucci Sports announced today that bat industry icon, Chuck Schupp, has joined its team as Head of Big League Player Relations, bringing with him decades of baseball clubhouse knowledge and relationships.

“Chuck’s 35 years of clubhouse expertise is a priceless addition to the Marucci team,” said Kurt Ainsworth, Marucci co-founder and CEO. “Chuck has a unique understanding of this industry, its evolution, and the challenges ahead and we are excited to have him continue building our brand in the Big Leagues.”

The hiring of Schupp, who retired from Louisville Slugger in 2014, comes in the wake of the recently announced sale of Louisville Slugger to Wilson Sporting Goods Co. Over the past few years, Marucci Sports has matched and surpassed all of its competitors as the baseball bat of choice among Big League players. Over one-third of Big Leaguers swing Marucci and the company is still majority owned by current and former Big Leaguers, including Jose Bautista, who is on the Marucci Sports Board of Directors, and Player Advisory Board Members David Ortiz, Chase Utley, Albert Pujols, and Andrew McCutchen.

Schupp, 60, joined Louisville Slugger in 1979 and has spent the last 30 years traveling to stadiums across the country to connect with veterans and rookies alike at all levels of professional baseball, building relationships and providing them with product. Big Leaguers view Schupp as the unparalleled expert in the bat industry and the go-to guy for their individual needs. His relationships in the sport extend to all levels of professional baseball and include managers, coaches and front office staff throughout.

“I admire Marucci’s rise to #1 in such a short time. Marucci has not only grown to its dominant position in the Big Leagues, but continues to grow by setting the gold standard of quality,” said Schupp. “I am looking forward to being back in the clubhouses with Marucci, renewing old relationships, gaining some new ones and strengthening Marucci’s already stellar Big League relations.”

March Madness And MLB Linked By CEO Pool

HarlemRBIHow can baseball benefit from March Madness? It’s In The Pool.

As we head toward the Final Four and Opening Day of Baseball there is an interesting mix we had previously talked about that ties both sports together in an unusual way. At the beginning of March Madness, Bloomberg announced a pool with 32 high level CEO’s each kicking in $10,000, with the winner getting the whole pot, $320,000 to go to a dedicated charity of their choice.

The list of CEO’s ranged from Michael Bloomberg to AOL’s Tim Armstrong, and from the Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio to Under Armour’s Kevin Plank, all chipping in for the cause of their choice. From education to food banks, cancer charities to wrestling programs, the help would be for a wide range of programs.

The Final Four has little Cinderella and lots of favorites, all of which could lead to a compelling finish to a great event at Lucas Oil Stadium. Who in the Bloomberg pool could cash in? One unique mix has baseball potentially benefiting, while the other may have some good karma for basketball and LeBron James.

Gary Cohen, CEO of Goldman Sachs, leads the group with all four of his Final Four intact, but needs Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin Badgers to win it all. If Frank Kaminsky and Co. make it past Kentucky and through the finals, the windfall would go to Harlem RBI, the not-for-profit that works with Major League Baseball to grow the game in inner cities.

Cohen’s 144 points places him ahead of Quicken Loans founder and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers Dan Gilbert, who is second with 139 points and has 3/4’s of the Final Four left. The difference is Gilbert has overwhelming favorite Kentucky winning it all, which would move him to the top spot as he plays for the Children’s Tumor Foundation.

EBay President and CEO John Donahoe is third, with Milwaukee Bucks owner Mark Lasry fourth, although neither appear to have the mix to leapfrog the top two.

On the bottom, keep fretting Lakers fans, as it looks like CEO Jeanie Buss will be bringing up the rear with just 90 points, although she does have Kentucky winning it all. Plank sadly is just ahead of her and with no one left in his Final Four, he may hit bottom as well. All in fun and philanthropy though.

The new concept by Bloomberg could bode well for giving elsewhere as well. How about a Women’s World Cup pool coming up as well, with some global heads putting $10 K in the kitty?

New Berra Museum Exhibit “Saving Face” Expores Marvels Of The Mask

Vic Willis

Vic Willis

As the last line of defense, baseball catchers and hockey goalies play the most perilous positions in their sports. Besides mental stress, they face speeding fastballs and flying pucks, coming at them like missiles out of a fog.

They are part psychologists, part acrobats, part traffic cops and full-time protectors of home plate and the goal crease, respectively.

And the mask is their most invaluable – and personal – piece of armor.

With a national spotlight on injuries and safety in sports, the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center in Little Falls, N.J., examines the fascinating history of baseball and hockey facial protection with a new exhibit: Saving Face: The Evolution of the Catcher and Goalie Mask to run from Wednesday through October 4.

The exhibit includes some of sports’ most iconic face wear, including Boston Bruins goalie Gerry Cheevers’ famed stitched mask, arguably the most recognizable goalie mask of all time.  Featuring some of baseball and hockey’s primitive facial protection, the exhibit also spotlights the masks of current NHL and MLB stars, including those of  Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants.

Ironically, baseball and hockey masks were inspired by another sport – fencing.  Fred Thayer, a Harvard baseball captain, in 1876 designed and patented the first catcher’s mask, adapted from ones worn by his school’s fencing team. About 50 years later, a Queens University goalie, Elizabeth Graham, adorned a fencing mask to protect her teeth, the first recorded instance of a goalie wearing a mask.

Of course, baseball and hockey have evolved through the years, and so have safety, style and technology. With widespread concern about concussions and other long-term health issues, Saving Face is designed to promote more awareness and education on sports safety.

The Museum will also be hosting an April 21 symposium, “Play Hard, Play Right: Making Youth Sports Safer” which is being sponsored by the Richard Becher Memorial Foundation for Safety in Sports and free to the public.  For more info about the exhibit and symposium, call (973) 655-2378.

New Stadium Operations Practices Take Effect for 2015

Baseball SecurityAs previously announced, Major League Baseball’s Stadium Operations Practices for the 2015 regular season require each Club to develop and implement mandatory metal detection screening of all fans prior to entry to each Major League ballpark. Many Major League Clubs already began such a program throughout the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

The screening program will be in effect at 29 ballparks on Opening Day and full fan screening will be phased in over the course of the first month of the 2015 season. The Commissioner’s Office has postponed the commencement of the program at Wrigley Field in light of the extensive renovations that are underway.

This procedure, which resulted from a recent study of best security practices and MLB’s continuing work with the Department of Homeland Security to elevate and standardize initiatives across the game, will be in addition to bag checks that have been uniform throughout MLB. Fan screening may be conducted by means of hand-held metal detection or walk-through magnetometers. Fans should monitor announcements from Clubs regarding their individual programs and the details of the anticipated practices in each market.

John McHale, Jr., MLB’s Executive Vice President, Administration, said: “Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our fans. In the last several seasons, our experiences in many markets and at our jewel events have indicated that fans have a high level of understanding of these efforts. We believe this step will pose minimal inconvenience and ultimately will serve the best interests of fans.”

City of Scottsdale & Scottsdale CVB Named Presenting Sponsors For ‘Baseball City’ 2015

Baseball-City-LogoThe Legacy Agency has announced that Baseball City – the largest and only interactive Spring Training event in the country- will have The City of Scottsdale and the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau as official presenting sponsors for the second annual event, which will be held in Scottsdale on March 7 and 8.

Over 20,000 fans are expected to join in on the free event, which will have a host of interactive programs, clinics, brand activation platforms and appearances by current and former MLB players as part of the two day celebration that will kick off Cactus League play. The inaugural event was held in Phoenix in 2014.

“Our vision with Baseball City was to give those fans even more added value to their spring training  experience; to allow  people young and old a little more engagement when they are not watching games,” said Mike Principe, CEO of The Legacy Agency. “Bringing the event now to Scottsdale, within minutes of several of the facilities, will enhance the overall baseball experience beyond the traditional game day. We will have something for everyone, and believe that this will quickly become a ‘must attend’ for everyone making the trek to Arizona both this spring and for years to come.”

In addition to the presenting sponsor, the Legacy Agency has added Baseball America as the event’s anchor sponsor and Univision as the events Media Partner. Brands that have come on board for the event include:  Steiner Sports, LIDS, KIND Snacks, Schutt Sports, Uber, Saguaro Scottsdale Hotel, Ferguson Jenkins Foundation, Scottsdale Food Truck Caravan, Rock N Roll High School, YELP, the Arizona Baseball Network and Triple Crown Sports.

Kids of all ages will also have the ability to take part in a special Arizona SciTech Baseball Festival, which brings unique partnerships with ASU, UA and Midwestern Scientists to engage the public in hands on opportunities with the science behind sport, while the The Arizona Spring Training Experience and Cactus League Hall of Fame tells the story of the players, the teams, and the communities that have made Arizona the home for spring training baseball for seventy years.

The lineup of participants in the event are expected to include: Hall of Famers Ferguson Jenkins and Orlando Cepeda, 2014 AL All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley (Cleveland Indians), Chicago White Sox star Melky Cabrera, San Francisco Giants catcher Andrew Susac, the Arizona Diamondbacks second baseman Aaron Hill, Oakland Athletics All Star pitcher Scott Kazmir and outfielder Billy Butler, Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Wily Peralta, and Chicago Cubs outfielder Arismendy Alcántara among many others.

Topps Officially Launches Baseball Season With Ambitious Series 1 MLB Set

15TBB1_1142_FRJust before pitchers and catchers report for spring training, the TOPPS Company revealed their 2015 Series 1 Set of Baseball Cards. The set includes the last card for Yankees legend Derek Jeter, as well as a series of “First Pitch” cards captured during the 2014 season, including rapper Macklemore throwing with the Seattle Mariners, actor Jeff Bridges with the Los Angeles Dodgers, rocker Eddie Vedder with the Chicago Cubs, Boston Marathon champ Meb Keflezighi with the Boston Red Sox, and several other surprises. Digital and hard copies are available for media by request.

“This year’s Series 1 set, coming out just ahead of when pitchers and catchers report, will have something for everyone, from the casual fan to the passionate collector with many surprises as well,” said Topps vice president of product development Clay Luraschi.  “It is a reflection of what we have seen in recent years, fans wanting a good mix of the present and the past with a little pop culture sprinkled in.”

“Baseball History” cards in the set bring the past alive with iconic moments combined with special baseball feats such as Sandra Day O’Connor being sworn in as the first female Supreme Court Justice on the same day that Steve Carlton broke the NL strikeout record (Sept. 21, 1981). “Highlight of the Year” autograph and relic subset includes cards of Ernie Banks, who passed away recently and with the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series, many members of the team were featured in an autograph or a relic card highlighting their win including Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner and Joe Panik.

The Series 1 base set consists of 350 cards. The base set will feature Veterans, Rookies, Future Stars, League Leaders and highlights from the 2014 season and World Series. Along with Series 2 (which comes out in June), there will be 700 base cards, which is the largest base card set for Topps in a decade.

Topps To Offer Tribute Sets For Legendary Card Designer Sy Berger

SyBerger-CollectionThe Topps Company, Inc.  today announced that they will honor the late Sy Berger, one of the fathers of the modern day baseball card, with two special sets, available as the Hot Stove season fully kicks in this coming week.

Topps is now offering two post card size sets of Red and Blue back cards, each set numbered to 99 that will mimic the 1951 design that was the first baseball card that he designed for Topps. It will feature a combination of retired and current players along with a card of Sy in each release, along with 10×14 posters for each player in the set. The orders can be placed on Topps.com starting today and can be viewed here.

“As we continue to find ways to be more engaged with consumers in the digital space, it is great to honor Sy’s legacy with a set that connects our glorious past to our really promising future as a continued partner with MLB,” said Topps Jeff Heckman. “We think this is both a nice tribute and a great way to kick off the coming 2015 season for fans and collectors of all ages.”

Berger, known as the father of the modern-day baseball trading card, died in December at age 91. In the 1950s, he introduced Topps cards and a year later, he conceived the prototype for the modern baseball card, supplanting the unimaginative, smallish and often black-and-white offerings of the existing card companies. As vice president for sports and licensing at the Topps Chewing Gum Company, he also worked with thousands of players to sign contracts allowing Topps to use their images. He then added color, statistics and copies of stars’ signatures.