New MLB-Mandated Security Measures to Be Implemented at Yankee Stadium Beginning on Tuesday

Metal-DetectorThe New York Yankees today announced that as part of Major League Baseball’s initiative to standardize security procedures at all 30 Major League parks for the start of the 2015 season, metal detectors will be added at various entry points at Yankee Stadium beginning on Tuesday for the start of the Yankees’ upcoming homestand.

These procedures, which result from MLB’s continuing work with the Department of Homeland Security to standardize security practices across the game, will be in addition to bag checks that are now uniform throughout MLB.

The Yankees are introducing metal detection at select Stadium entrances this season – before the 2015 mandate – in an effort to acclimate staff and fans to the new procedure. Beginning in 2015, all game-day entrances to Yankee Stadium will follow this protocol.

Due to the enhanced security measures, the Yankees strongly urge all fans to begin budgeting extra time for entry into the ballpark when planning their trip to the Stadium.

“Nothing is more important to us at Yankee Stadium than the safety of the fans we serve,” said Yankees Chief Operating Officer Lonn Trost. “To that end, we are committed to the procedures that Major League Baseball and the Department of Homeland Security have asked us to implement. We want our fans to feel safe in Yankee Stadium, and our staff is dedicated to maintaining the highest security standards possible.”

Beginning with Tuesday’s game vs. Houston, fans will be asked to remove cell phones and all large metal objects from their pockets before walking through metal detectors at select Yankee Stadium entryways. As has been the policy of recent years, all bags will be checked, and only MLB-compliant bags – 16 in. x 16 in. x 8 in. or smaller – will be admitted.

Those who choose not to go through a walk-through metal detector have the option of being manually checked with a hand-held detector.

Endangered Species: The New York Baseball Player

New York Empire Baseball founder Jordan Baltimore with one of his young players.

New York Empire Baseball founder Jordan Baltimore with one of his young players.

I’ve had the pleasure of covering big league baseball and being involved in youth coaching the last several years, and I have often wondered why the “New York Game” as we call it here at Gotham Baseball, isn’t as well-represented in MLB as are other parts of the country. Part of the problem is how MLB teams look for talent, as there seems to be very few MLB scouts on hand in NYC for even the best of programs.

Despite the obvious weather-related reasons why most kids playing baseball in New York don’t get as much attention as their warm-weather counterparts, we decided to look closer at the problem.

First, we sat down with Jordan Baltimore, who runs a top grade teaching academy in NYC called New York Baseball Empire, which spends as much time training older kids to coach, as teaching younger ones to play.

Gotham Baseball: Do you have any theories about why so few New York area players make it to big leagues? Is it geography, bias or something else?

Jordan Baltimore: My understanding from the past is that a study was done many years ago as to the geographic dispersion of baseball players that made the major leagues, and it seemed decades ago that dispersion was wide across the US, with many players coming in “clusters” – that is, 3 or 4 or 5 guys from the same town/neighborhood made the bigs together. Would best be explained by their propensity and time devoted to playing the game. Now things have changed significantly – with southern California and Georgia being hotbeds of recruiting “5A” High School players. Aside from the obvious – the inability to or unlikelihood of playing year round – it would seem to be that this very well may be a cycle in which a number of factors are contributing:

Lack of top tier coaching- Given the current sense of low likelihood of top notch ballplayers coming from New York, top tier coaches may be bringing their own talents elsewhere.
Also, given the expense of living/working in New York, coaches are unlikely to return here for work.

Low parent involvement/expertise- Baseball dads are abound in other cities – dads that have great athletic backgrounds – and there may be a negative correlation between the key industries in New York and baseball coaching ability. IE – is a Wall Streeter less likely to be a good baseball coach than other industries that don’t dominate the landscape in other locales?

Lack of interest- Given that same sense, players that are “serious” don’t stay in New York. We know of one such instance in a young player whose family moved to New Jersey to continue their efforts to grow his baseball career – he landed on the USA Baseball team at a very young age. We had another “serious” ballplayer leave for Florida.

Other opportunities- New York offers everything – and parents in New York encourage their children to engage in everything. It seems to me that there is a mindset of diversification in New York families that may not be ubiquitous nor prevalent in other cities and locations.

Poor conditions relative to other sports- Sports like soccer, lacrosse, football and basketball seemed to have gained popularity relative to baseball as field conditions and quality baseball organizations have diminished in the area.

Unfortunately it seems to me like many of these conditions/causes will continue to accelerate. I tend to think that our brand and approach of coaching has bucked the trend – as our culture and content are unique – with our culture focused on maturity of the players and the coaches. And the content is science-based, not traditional. Our coaches are trained that their job is not to win the game – but to motivate and prepare players to win.

GB: What is it about your academy that makes it so popular, what different things are you doing than other places?

JB: As an organization, we also teach the same content from each coach to every player. We don’t have different coaches that teach different techniques. We all teach the same material and teach it consistently. We’re also constantly evolving in terms of our methods and our content. We’re always looking for answers – and taking every opportunity and teaching moment as a moment to learn, ourselves, how to become better coaches. Finally our business practices are sound – we put the players before the profits. We know that business success will be a long-term result of our players having an experience that is second-to-none.

GB: I coach Little League, have done so for many years. What’s right / wrong with youth baseball as its being run now, and are travel teams the answer.

JB: Travel teams aren’t necessarily the “answer.” Little Leagues need to do a better job of organizing and training their parent-coaches – and eliminating the arguments and yelling that are predominant in these environments. It’s disappointing to see some of the LL dads arguing all the time at games. Not only is it counterproductive, it teaches the kids some awful lessons. We make it clear to our players that we don’t argue calls with the umpires – ever – we will question the rules and how they are applied – and do it respectfully. But balls, strikes, safe/out – we never argue – we teach the kids that mistakes may happen – and that in life you need to learn to deal with those mistakes once they’ve occurred – not to try to shout loud enough to get the mistake changed. Umps aren’t going to change strike calls as a result of being yelled at. Also – the time that teams spend practicing can be made more effective with better planning around practice organization – it would behoove these organizations to connect with trainers that can help both the coaches and the players to succeed in the long-term.

GB: What advice would you give to parents who have a talented kid at 12 years of age?

JB: The advice we would give would be to support the player – not to push him – give him the opportunity to be challenged and to develop – and to do it with a keen eye toward arm and body health. Find a trainer that can help to develop the 12 year old and guide him through his next 5 years of baseball, as the combination of HS and Travel baseball is a challenging one – both physically and mentally. Additionally, a trainer can help to identify areas of opportunity for the player – that is, where has the player succeeded as a result of sheer athleticism versus actual developed skill. When players move up tot he 60/90 fields, many of them are surprised by their sudden inability to hit successfully – their poor swing quality making the -3 wood bats feel too heavy, and the larger field suddenly presenting an insurmountable task of hitting the ball out of the infield. For years they succeeded using light metal bats on tiny fields – only to find that they are suddenly behind the curve on the larger field with a real bat. Focus on physical, mental and mechanical development, not just on athleticism as a road to future success.

***

I also spoke with Alan Lubell, who runs the National Youth Baseball Tournament that is coming to New York for the first time after five years in Memphis, TN. The tourney will be in Baseball Heaven in August in Yaphank, NY.

collage Gotham

Gotham Baseball: Parents have so many programs to choose from, and in my experience, very few have any clue of what is the right direction; how does someone overcome their limitations in a limited environment such as Long Island Little League to excel for a team in ours?

Alan Lubell: Generally parents sign up their kids, ages 8-12 in rec ball leagues where they play with other neighborhood kids. Little League and BabeRuth are the two biggest rec ball organizations. This decision is primarily based upon convenience and not at all related to skill levels. Many parents recognizing that their kids show above average baseball talent opt to send their kids to regional travel ball tournaments where the kids compete with other advanced players. This is where the kids can see how good they really are. Travel Ball is the fastest growing segment of Youth Baseball.

GB: Why come to Yaphank in the first place, and why are there no teams from here?

AL: Baseball Heaven in Yaphank primarily draws local and regional teams to their tournaments. In a bid to become nationally known Baseball Heaven made an offer to the NYBC, to host the 2014 tournament. The NYBC is in its seventh year, and was founded by Eddie Einhorn, the Vice Chairman of the Chicago White Sox . The previous six events were in Memphis, TN. The NYBC is a national tournament for the best 12U’s teams in the country. There are 10 qualifying tournaments and two at large bids used to determine the 16 team field. Einhorn’s idea was to get the best teams in the country to play for the National Championship.

GB: I have my own theories about this, but at what age should kids be pitching from 60 feet 6 inches, running bases at 90 feet?

AL: The NYBC event plays Major League Rules with stealing, 70 feet between bases and 50 feet from the pitchers mound to home plate. The outfield fences are at least 200 feet down the line and 250 feet to center field. The idea behind this is that if a kid only plays Little League with no stealing and shorter dimensions the jump up to a full major league field is too severe. Therefore you could say these rules allow for a graduated move up to a full field.

***

Clearly, as these two excellent gentleman have illustrated, the New York baseball player has his obstacles. It’s going to be worth watching over the next few years to see if these trends continue, or if something happens in the talent evaluation world that allows for a change.

Yankees Promote Wheeler, Option Solarte

The Yangervis Solarte experiment has hit a detour in the Bronx, as the 26-year-old rookie who got off to such a rousing start for the Bombers in the first two months of the season was optioned to AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre today in the first of what may be more moves to come.

Infielder Zelous Wheeler, similar to Solarte in that he has played his entire eight-year career in the minors, was added to the big league roster for the first time.

Solarte (.260/.343/.393) has played in 63 games for New York this year, primarily at third base. He has seen his playing time decline as he slumped over the past month.

Wheeler, 27, has played four defensive positions this year for Scranton, primarily third and shortstop, and sports a .299/.367/.467 slash line with 7 home runs and 31 RBI.

Infielder Dean Anna, who hit .136 in 22 at bats earlier this season for the Yankees after being acquired in the off season from San Diego, was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster.

(19) Days of Curtis

curtis-grandersonThere’s a great scene from (500) Days of Summer that employs a unique bit of storytelling that can be universally appreciated, regardless of your penchant for romantic comedies and/or Zooey Deschanel. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tom attends a party hosted by his ex-girlfriend, Deschanel’s Summer, wherein he expects to charm and woo her back into his good graces and rekindle their romance. Of course, it doesn’t play out that way — Tom mopes around as Summer cold-shoulders him with a very firm friend-zone demeanor.

The fine bit of storytelling comes in using a split screen to simultaneously show two distinct versions of the party: “Expectations,” the one that took place Tom’s head in which he taps into his inner debonair to win back Summer, and “Reality,” the disappointing party that took place.

Over at SNY, they have many a great technology they use to enhance broadcasts. However, I’m just not sure they have the manpower to play a hypothetical game side-by-side with the one actually happening, where they can use archive footage to splice together a productive Curtis Granderson — our “expectations” Curtis Granderson — contrary to the one we’ve seen in reality.

So yes Mets fandom, you’re forgiven if the Grandy Man has you feeling a little bit like Tom Hansen, playing out a desired reality in your head far from what the $60 million man has given us thus far in his 19-game-long Mets tenure. But if the wonderfully crafted scene from (500) Days of Summer taught us anything (other than giving the movie a chance because it really flips the formulaic RomCom genre on its head, but that’s for another time), it’s the value in tempering expectations, and coping healthily when your desires are not met.

Let’s talk healthy coping. Anointing Granderson “Jason Bay 2.0” is not healthy coping. Heartily booing Granderson as he plummets to another 0fer, although the mob mentality of ballpark booing is hard to resist, is not healthy coping. Rationalizing his performance through a wide lens with proper foresight while reminding yourself at every turn that Granderson has yet to play a full month with the Mets? That seems right.

That panic button is there, and despite the use the Mets seem to perpetually get out of it, always seems to look as shiny and crimson as the day it came out of the box. But dear god is it not time to press it yet. A .116 batting average is bad, and it only intensifies our fears when it reads as such at the start of the season. And this is all before considering the oh-god-what-have-we-done level of existential terror as the average comes on the heels of the biggest contract the Mets have shelled out for a free-agent position player in some time. But quitting on Granderson after 19 games? Is that what this has come to?

To help assuage collective fears and temper expectations, let’s remind ourselves of the player we signed up for. Granderson was a 40-100 hitter in Yankee Stadium at full health, but he was never going to be that guy at Citi Field. We also knew after playing just 61 games last season, he was going to need some time to get back in any sort of groove.

What’s more, Granderson failed to hit over .250 in three of his last four full seasons. If we’re talking adjustments, it’s not just trying to stop hitting home runs, it’s re-teaching yourself to become a contact hitter. Changing one’s swing considerably at 33 years old doesn’t happen over 18 games (if it even happens at all). The growing pains were always going to be intense, but in Mets fandom’s (well-deserved) beer goggles, they were ignored, never rationalized or fully considered.

So rather than panic, brace yourself for some rocky waters ahead and remind yourself that Granderson’s season is just 18 games old. He will strike out a ton, his power will leave a little to be desired from his days in the Bronx, but he is not a career .121 hitter and a smart, savvy veteran like Granderson should have to do little to earn your trust regarding his ability to bounce back. It’s the very reason the front office shelled out $60 million for him, and it’s the reason 18 games is far, far too short a time to start calling for Granderson’s head.

Tom didn’t end up with Summer at the end of (500) Days of Summer, and it’s very likely Mets fans won’t wind up with the Curtis Granderson they tricked themselves into thinking they were getting in January 2014. At the same time, the movie did not end with Tom killing himself. Instead, he quit his thankless job in pursuit of a dream career in architecture, met a new girl, and took back control over his own life instead of endless wallowing. Granderson won’t be our Summer Finn, but in time he can be something completely different, a serviceable, well-rounded veteran asset on a team trying to make a desperate push back to any sort of relevance.

Mets Observations From The Couch

We can’t do much with spring training scores and stats, which makes March a painful baseball purgatory where the qualitative trumps the quantitative and, yep, we might just have to put number-crunching on hold for the good old fashioned eye test. With a shade under two weeks until Opening Day, here’s mine regarding some of the Mets most hotly debated topics.

It’s not time to be pessimistic yet!

There is always going to be a “Jon Niese’s elbow…”

With two weeks until Opening Day, Daisuke Matsuzaka seemed to be emerging as the front-runner for that last rotation spot with all signs pointing towards John Lannan and his left arm being relegated to the bullpen and Jenrry Mejia being the odd man out. Once upon a time, this was how the three-way fight for the fifth spot in the Mets’ rotation was shaping out. But since baseball is a self-correcting universe, this problem potentially fixed itself before the meddling reach of managers, coaches and a front office could tamper.

And so, the health of Jon Niese being what it is, one of the two on the outs of the rotation might make a few spot-starts come early April. And that’s just baseball. That said, this pitcher should be Mejia. After giving Josh Edgin the early pink slip in camp, it’s clear the Mets want to commit to Lannan as the southpaw they want in the ‘pen and commit they should. With the most to gain and the least to lose, the young Mejia should get a start or two in April, essentially an audition to eventually supplant Matsuzaka in the rotation.

…But it’s not always this clean

There are worse position battles to be waged than the one over a fifth starter spot. There are few worse position battles than one waged over a first baseman, which falls pretty much near the bottom on the laundry list of spots you don’t want up for grabs come March. Alas, with less than two weeks until Opening Day, neither Ike Davis nor Lucas Duda have done much to state his case as the team’s starting first baseman. It’s a bad situation that, unlike the fight for the fifth starter spot, has been exacerbated by injury, not made easier.

The most impressive first baseman in camp has been Eric Campbell, who will almost assuredly not make the Opening Day roster, even if injuries do sideline Davis and/or Duda. Josh Satin proves a capable backup corner infielder, and of course matches up better against southpaws than the aforementioned. But still, the position is a jumbled mess and nobody in the Mets universe is any closer to touting Davis or Duda as the team’s starting first baseman.

Speaking of the infield…

While it’s important to remember Ruben Tejada is only 24 and was once a somewhat consistent player, he’s having as awful a camp as it gets. That first clause, however, is almost definitely what’s inhibiting Sandy Alderson from parting with pitching prospects for Mariners prospect Nick Franklin, or shelling out a second year for still-a-free-agent Stephen Drew.

Spring Training stats being what they are — and couch-surfing, naked-eye assessments being what they are — Tejada should not be the starting shortstop for this team going forward. It seems uncharacteristic of Alderson to not have already pulled the trigger on an alternative, which means he’s either still hamstrung on a budget and is worried about having to give up an unprotected pick in next June’s draft for Drew (90 wins, anyone?) or is steadfast on not over-giving prospects for Franklin.

Whatever it is, the Mets’ shortstop is one pothole that should not be left unresolved once this winter moves on out. New Jersey native Anthony Seratelli is a minor-league lifer who deserves a shot at the bigs as a backup (he seems to fall not far from the Mike Baxter tree), but is not a viable starter. The nomadic Wilmer Flores has nowhere to hang his hat, and for right now, shortstop isn’t the answer. And as much as Omar Quintanilla’s name is enjoyable to say, he too is but a backup.

Juan Lagares is a really, really good fielder

But you didn’t need me to tell you this. He’s continued to flash his otherworldly glove this spring, proving that defense can bring sexy back. More importantly, for a team whose mission statement is to win from the mound, not the batters box, Lagares is a security blanket the Mets would be foolish not to run out to center field every day.

A pitcher’s knowledge that a fielder like Lagares is patrolling center is an unmeasured stat (for now), but in terms of allowing a hurler to be aggressive and confident — especially the Mets’ stable of young arms who will need all the confidence they can get going forward — it is an undeniable asset. As for his offense, it’s an admitted work in progress, but this whole team is a work in progress to be finished some time before 2015, when the health of Matt Harvey and major-league-readiness of Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard all hope to coalesce.

Give Lagares a full, low-stakes year as a starting center fielder and see what happens. Eric Young Jr. and Andrew Brown are still there as capable backup outfielders if things go south in a season with no real hope for the postseason.

Speed is good, but savvy is better

The Mets have become one of the best base-stealing teams in the league without necessarily being one of the quickest. EYJ led the NL in steals last season and has some of the best wheels in the majors, but David Wright, Daniel Murphy, Chris Young and Curtis Granderson are all smart veterans who do more with savvy than with outright speed, and all are capable of swiping 20 bags.

Credit the coaching of Tom Goodwin, who has developed one of the smartest baserunning teams in Major League Baseball, and also recognize his firm handle on this team’s identity as one that will have to produce runs heavily through aggressively smart baserunning. In a lineup that still lacks for major power and RBI men (the jury is still out on how Granderson will fare at vast Citi Field or how Chris Young will fare at all), smart baserunning is going to be this team’s offensive calling card.

Noah and Montero will be here, all in due time

You should know the routine by now. Harvey in 2012, Wheeler in 2013, and now Montero and Syndergaard in 2014. Be saddened, but not surprised that they were both in the Mets’ latest round of spring cuts. They each showed quick glimpses of promise in Port St. Lucie, but know it will still be a little while longer before they take the mound in Flushing. Again, there is no urgency in bringing either to the big leagues, and in fact, Syndergaard should have to season himself with a few months in the PCL gauntlet.

Montero does appear big-league ready, but as a courtesy to Matsuzaka, Lannan and Mejia, the Mets have made him the odd man out. His call-up might come before that Super Two if any combination of the three aforementioned don’t stick and the cards fall his way, but we’ll have to make do without him for just a few more weeks. It’s just the Metsian thing to do.

The radio and TV booths have been quirky delights

SNY has tried some interesting pairings this spring, throwing Gary, Keith, Ron, Kevin Burkhardt and Bob Ojeda into a centrifuge and seeing what rises to the top. KB has carried the bulk of the play-by-play reins to wonderful results, all at once terrific for a mensch who Mets fans have seen grow as a broadcaster, and awful as we all realize this is the last year of his contract with SNY, with bigger, brighter things in his future.

WOR, simply as a fuzzy AM radio station still figuring out how it’s going to properly integrate the New York Mets with headliners like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, is a work in progress. But hanging on to Josh Luwin might be the move of the offseason for the front office. He’s worked with a few interesting personalities this spring (Steve Phillips, C.J. Nitkowski, John Franco), but come the regular season, the all-star pairing of he and Howie Rose will leave the Mets’ radio prospect in a fine place. Here’s to hoping you can find it cleanly on your dial.

Gotham Baseball Rumor Mill: Is McCann in Mets’ “Plan”?

The hardest decision to make when publishing a rumor — especially when it’s going to involve the New York Mets — is the maelstrom of negative energy that always seems to follow. However I also believe that when you hear a rumor from a trusted source, you at least have to give it some credence. At the very least, I think it’s worth sharing with the folks who will ultimately be affected by it.

This past weekend, I was told by someone who talks regularly with Mets officials, that Brian McCann is a target that the team is “very interested” in. I was very skeptical (and remain so) when I heard this, but given that this person has usually been very reliable, I at least tried to listen to his scenario.

“They want to sign McCann,” he said. “Same of those guys envision him as being an impact bat and someone who will mentor and develop their young pitching staff. They love (Travis) d’Arnaud, but think they can get another big piece for him. McCann’s a finished product that can produce now.”

I have never, ever heard McCann’s name with the Mets in even the most dubious of media outlets, but I was — and am — intrigued by the possibility, no matter how remote or unlikely.

So, rather than post a “Gotham Baseball has learned … ” sort of article, I instead will put this to the readers; Are the Mets interested in making Brian McCann the centerpiece of their 2013-14 offseason?

Even before the injury to Matt Harvey, reports that the Mets would consider dealing a pitching prospect or two to upgrade the team’s offense had been met with a bit of disbelief in some baseball circles. One baseball official I spoke with a few weeks ago felt that the Mets would be hard-pressed to trade any of their top 5 young hurlers.

“They can write whatever they want,” said the baseball official, who asked not to be identified for this story. “I don’t see the Mets undoing three years of fishing to make that drastic a move right now.

“They have too many areas where they need an upgrade to dilute a organizational strength”

I happen to agree with this kind of thinking, especially when some of the names being discussed, like Carlos Gonzales of the Rockies, would be very costly. Also, the unknown status of Harvey makes any deal involving young pitching seem risky at best.

There are some observers who feel the Mets will not be spending quite as freely as some others suggest (and you can include this writer on that list), so this chatter that the Mets might be considering McCann as their new big bat makes little sense. But let’s consider this in a vacuum.

If you were the Mets, what plan makes most sense?

Sign McCann, trade d’Arnaud- centered for another offensive player.

Trade two or three prospects for Carlos Gonzales.

Sign Jacoby Ellsbury and mix and match rest of imports.

I have been one of those folks that are not overly satisfied with Sandy Alderson’s full body of work, so I’m not going to speculate on whether or not this option is a real one. I’m not sure even like it. But it is certainly worth a discussion.

What do you think?

Gotham Baseball Minors: Quiroli: Trenton Thunder Notebook

Thunder Notebook- May

Trenton, NJ- The Thunder closed out May at home with two rehab appearances and a walk-off win, against the team with the best Eastern League record.

A fine way to end June and improve their record to 30-24.

The ability to make contact and get guys on base hasn’t been their problem. And that was on display on May 30th, vs. the Erie Seawolves. Also on display was their struggle to get those guys home. The Thunder left eleven on base.

But in watching them at the plate, they look like players working it out, each game, each at-bat. Their inexperience at the Double-A level may play a part, but their progress is also clear.

“I’ve had a lot of these guys through every year of their careers,” said Thunder hitting coach Justin Turner. They all have good ability, with solid routines, and they’ve gotten more mature each of the past few years. They’re all getting in good counts.”

Slade Heathcott, with four-hits in the May 30th victory, has been putting together a particularly impressive string of games. In 21 games in May, he knocked in eighteen runs, and had a nine-game hitting streak.

“He’s got some impressive tools,” said rehabbing Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira. “He played a ball at close to four-hundred feet. He impressed me.”

“All three outfielders are great,” said third baseman Kevin Youkilis, also rehabbing the same says as Teixeira. “JR Murphy really impressed me behind the plate. And with how well he hits and defensively, he’s going to make it pretty far. I saw him in spring training a little bit and liked him a lot.”

Youkilis also mentioned that they saw a lot of the guys on the roster in spring training, and that they talked more there, about the game.

Any advice those veterans can give is surely appreciated. The Thunder players of 2013 are already showing that they’re ready to learn and willing to work.

Tyler Austin Works Through Struggles With Extra Effort

Pressure is a given as a prospect makes it through the ranks. They have to play to it, not against it and learn to keep their head out of the noise of expectation.

Rightfielder Tyler Austin is like any other young player, in that he’s trying to get the hang of that.

“I’m definitely starting to relax. I’m concentrating on getting contact. I’ve been doing more work in the cages, working on things after games.”

In his first full season in Double-A, after level-jumping four times in 2012 and finishing the season as organizational Player of the Year, he’s had to adjust to a lot. The key objective has been simple, just not necessarily simple to put in action consistently. At least not yet.

“It’s just about keeping my same approach at every level.”

Thunder players have had their share of offensive growing pains. Their .247 batting average is second to last in the Eastern League. They are second in strikeouts, K’ing 247 times so far this season.

Austin is part of a group that are highly regarded in the system, and struggling hard through a big test.

“We’re not getting that big hit right now. But that’s what you go through. Eventually, you turn it around.”


Hitting Coach Justin Turner Takes Key Players To Next Step:

Here is what Thunder hitting coach Justin Turner had to say in May about his players:

“I’ve had a lot of these guys through every year of their careers. They all have good ability, with solid routines, and they’ve gotten more mature each of the past few years. They’re all getting in good counts.”

On Their Maturity: Parenting. They were brought up very respectful. They’re very aware, and wear the New York pinstripes with pride. They don’t take their roles lightly. That was instilled in them, before I was working them.

On First Baseman Kyle Roller: Roller is fun, a pleasure to work with. He’s a coach’s dream. He’s gotten to the point where he can coach himself. That eliminates me, which is what you want. He’s got a good feel for what he needs to do, so he doesn’t rely on me. [Roller actually had a far more successful April, than May. In May, his average dropped from .337 to .198. But in the final five games of the month, he got four hits, an RBI, and three walks.]

On Thunder’s High Strikeout Rate: We’re drawing walks, swinging at good pitches. But this is a young club. It comes down to their approach. We make some routine tweaks, but the routine is designed to get you back to where you need to be.

Thunder Manager Tony Franklin Addresses Releasing Player, Former Player’s Transition:

On Releasing Pitcher Shaeffer Hall: That was tough, because I liked him. He’s got a passion for this game. And yet he understood. He indicated to me that he wants to keep playing, and will try and get an opportunity somewhere else. Or he’d like to get in baseball by being in the office, being behind a desk. He has a degree. [Hall played in the Yankees organization starting in 2009, after the team drafted him in the 25th round of that year's MLB June Draft.]

Franklin also commented on former Thunder pitcher Dellin Betances being moved to the bullpen. When asked, Franklin agreed that Betances struggled to get through the order multiple times as a starting pitcher. Earlier, Thunder pitching coach Tommy Phelps said Betances would start out a game strong, but “somewhere along the way, it would fall apart.”

On Whether The Yankees Could Develop Him Into A Closer: He could come in for one or two pitches. You just don’t give up on a guy like that, who can throw that hard. Stuff wise, maybe not the best because of the control issues. But overall, you just don’t find players like that everyday, that can throw that hard in high school. He pitched a game for us in Richmond, and he should’ve been pitching for the Yankees that day.”

Thunder By The Numbers:

In 30 games, the Thunder’s team ERA was 3.06. In twelve games in May, the staff carried a 1.83 ERA. Nik Turley leads the staff with 52 strikeouts.

Tyler Austin leads the team in RBI with 32. In 2012 he was named the Yankees Minor League Player of the Year. The oufielder’s average dipped to .253. In April he got seventeen hits, and just thirteen in May in 107 at bats. However, Austin leads all Thunder hitters in RBI, with 32.

Kyle Roller’s six home runs lead the team.
The Thunder bullpen is tied for first with New Hampshire with seventeen saves.

Quote of the Month: ‘It’s fun, but then you’re kind of like, you’re getting old…. “ Youkilis
(Teixeira followed that up by saying, ‘We saw some sixteen year olds in spring training.’)

Gotham Baseball Minors: Quiroli: Trenton Thunder Notebook

Entering their 20th season in existence, the Trenton Thunder are off to a solid start.

In their first 11 games, they went 8-3, overcoming offensive issues and shaky pitching. They’ve come together as a team, with some unexpected players emerging early.

Manager Tony Franklin, returning for his seventh season to the newly named Arm & Hammer Park (formerly Waterfront Park), came back to new digs down the hall from the clubhouse. The office, equipped with a new larger flat-screen TV, was a gesture the longest-tenured Eastern League manager expressed appreciation for.

But on the night of the home opener, all the new gadgets and surroundings were only the backdrop to the real story: a team with a few highly regarded prospects, and returning guys that are developing at a promising pace.

“[Nik] Turley’s second game, he got off to a bit of a slow start. But he’s settled down. That indicates to me that he has enough to pitch here and beyond. We jumped out of the box with a tremendous offensive attack. That puts a scare in me a little bit, because you think, ‘Hey, are we going to be able to do this every night?’”

Turley’s start on the 15th was an exercise in patience. He worked it out as he went along, struggling at times, but mixing in a healthy dose of first-pitch strikes. He also consistently got the Akron Aeros to swinging and miss. But he was unable to pitch deep, lasting just 4 innings. He allowed 3 runs, two earned, on 4 hits. He gave up three walks, striking out 7. In the first inning, he threw all his pitches for strikes. But his inconsistency was an issue, and he often missed spots where catcher JR Murphy set him up. He threw a wild pitch in the 2nd.

“They’re youngsters at this level and they’re trying to find their way. It’s an adjustment period. The weather is a little bit cold. And baseball players just don’t like cold weather. They keep themselves above water until the weather gets better. It doesn’t get any warmer in New York.”

The three-game string of losses on the road didn’t seem to concern Franklin much. But he’s clear about what Yankees baseball is, and expects his players to know as well.

“We’re looking for a certain type of player,” Franklin said in matter-of-fact tone. “It takes determination.”

Murphy and Austin Bring High Expectations To Trenton

Baseball America ranked #4 Yankees prospect Tyler Austin and #15 ranked JR Murphy are the two names that jump off the roster.

But put the hype aside.

There is a lot of learning ahead, and Austin and Murphy are finding that out.

Austin’s results have fluctuated. Following a couple of multi-hit games, the right fielder went hitless for the next three. In four games, he’s followed that up with six hits total, including a five-RBI night. Franklin, for the record, mentioned the outfielder’s name first when asked who impressed him in Spring Training.

“I just haven’t been trusting my work, honestly,” said Austin. “I’m doing the right things during BP, and doing my work in the cage and I just haven’t been trusting it. The results haven’t been there. But yesterday I did it a little bit and hopefully I continue that.”

He’s coming off a season in which he was named the Yankees Minor League Player of the Year, after hitting .322 combined at three levels, including Trenton. He also set career highs in hits, runs, and doubles. This season has challenges out of the gate, but Austin is on it with a simple approach. Outside of taking more swings than he normally does, he’s keeping his routine the same.

Behind the plate, Murphy is also improving his skill set and continuing to learn himself at the plate in his first full season with the Thunder.

The catcher humorously commented on the cold weather playing a part in getting comfortable.

“The guys who are out there with no sleeves on, it’s like, ok, what does that guy have upstairs that I don’t. If you tell yourself it’s not cold, it’s not cold. But it’s still cold.”

Murphy has begun the season hitting .308 in the first ten games, 10 RBI, a home run, 2 doubles, and 6 walks.

His approach to catching echoes former Thunder catcher Austin Romine.

“I do a lot more studying of the defensive side. My job is to keep runs off the board for the other team. I pride myself on that.”

Austin clarifies that getting better at the Double-A level really is about working the process. In the end, the weather is a small part of that.

“They’re throwing some tough pitches up here. I’m not being patient. But I just need to carry what I’m doing in the cage, onto the field,” Austin said.

Tommy Phillips on Caleb Cotham, Thunder Pitching

“The main thing with Caleb is being healthy,” said Thunder pitching coach Tommy Phillips. “he came back last year and monitored his innings. He’ll throw a few more innings this year. The key is just for him to get out there and compete.”

Phillips said his slider is already a solid pitch, but the curveball, which he’s recently added, is still in the early development stages. His command of the pitch hasn’t come yet.

“He’s very good delivery-wise. The curveball is a new pitch. You have to see it and evaluate, but, I tell you what, it’s very good. It’s just a matter of him finding consistency with his path and his release point with it.”

Cotham sees a connection between all the aspects of his game. He talked about the focus that all that learning requires, certain that there is a key.

“For me, it’s about being a consistent person in general. I think if I take it day to day and have a consistent routine, be a consistent teammate, and my effort is consistent, then I think it’ll show up on the field. It’ll help me be a consistent pitcher. I don’t want to think a whole lot big picture-wise,” Cotham said.

Cotham is 1-0 with a 2.00 ERA. In two starts, he’s allowed just two earned runs on nine hits with eight strikeouts in nine innings.

“I’m working on the curveball. Eventually I’d like it to be a duel-pitch [combination]- curveball and slider. But I like to lean on my fastball. Last start was the first time I consistently used the curveball in a game.”

Phillips, in his fifth season as the Thunder’s pitching coach, has seen a lot of the Yankees top young pitchers come through the doors at 1 Thunder Road, and he sizes up what he’s already seen this year.

“It’s young…feels really young. They have to mature and learn how to face better pitchers. Here, it’s about learning how to command your pitches, learning when to change speeds. But a lot of good young arms.

With all that young pitching, there’s a young catcher in Murphy behind the plate. The importance of having a leader such as Murphy to work with the pitchers is paramount.

“Makes my job a lot easier,” Phillips said. “That’s the pitching coach out on the field. He’s the psychiatrist, so to say. He helps them get focused on the task at hand. It helps a lot, because he can communicate with you. JR is all those things. He’s intelligent and he’s going to help them mature as a group.”

NOTES:

Outfielder Shane Brown took the mound on April 9th, marking the first time since 2010 a position player has pitched for the Thunder. He didn’t allow a hit.
The Opening Day roster included three players on the Yankees 40-man roster: Outfielder Ramon Flores, and pitchers Turley and Francisco Rondon.
RHP Zach Nuding got the ball for the home opener, tossing the first quality start of any Trenton pitcher this season. He pitched six innings, allowing one earned run on six hits.
The newly named ballpark underwent renovations that include the addition of a 21’ x 68’ LED display in right field. Pitch speed is now displayed, as is instant replay. There are also new audio speakers, as well as an expanded production room in the press box.
Franklin’s two requests for his new office were pictures of Jackie Robinson and tennis player Arthur Ashe. The team presented him with a life-size movie poster of the new movie ‘42’, about the life of Jackie Robinson. He said he’s still waiting on the picture of Ashe.

Foley’s New York Rallies For Their Beloved City

“Light breaks where no sun shines;
Where no sea runs, the waters of the heart
Push in their tides”
Dylan Thomas

New York City – In the warmly lit Foley’s NY on West 33rd, a spirit of generosity rose up Thursday night.

In the hopes of raising money for victims of Hurricane Sandy, the idea for the benefit came about when it felt like more could be done. The ‘Irish Bar with the Baseball Attitude’ (and memorabilia to prove it) started putting out the call.

“After the devastation of Sandy, it’s like, ‘What can we do?’”, said Foley’s owner Shawn Clancy, a native of Ireland (impossible to miss) and a New Yorker for the past fifteen years. “Initially we got involved with a lot of different charities. Getting whatever donations we could get…shirts, socks. You don’t think about a pair of socks, you know? We donated money. But then it was just…what more can we do?”

The effort was also a personal one. Three of his staff are currently homeless, Clancy said.

And so began the planning and alerting everyone that, as Clancy said,‘we’re having a party on the 15th.’ Getting baseball players involved seemed a natural part of that idea. And with their ties to former players and local celebrities, the idea came together quickly.

They reached out to former Yankees player David Cone via Twitter, as well as former Mets player and current White Sox third base coach Joe McEwing. Newscasters Duke Castiglione, of ‘Fox Five, and Steve Lacy, of ‘Good Day’also got on board and guest bartended.

To the thrill of the crowd and flashing bulbs, David Cone stepped behind the bar and served drinks, followed by McEwing. Beforehand, McEwing wasn’t so sure his outing would be a success.

“I’ve never done it before,” he said, grinning. “But errors are ok. Hopefully, I’ll only make a few.”

Former pitcher Cone has a strong connection with New York baseball. He pitched for the Mets from 1987-1992 and for the Yankees from 1995-2000. He pitched the 16th perfect game in MLB history with the Yankees. McEwing was an outfielder for the Mets from 2000-2004 where he earned the nickname ‘Super Joe’ for his versatility to play all outfield positions. In his post-playing career he was named Manager of the Year in 2009 for the Winston Salem Dash.

McEwing’s ties to New York remain strong, as does his feeling toward the city and the people.

“I have so many great memories of the city playing in New York for five years. And being through 9/11 and being able to come back and help those devastated, I jumped at the chance,” said McEwing.

Former Yankees player Cecil Fielder also put in an appearance and happily mingled with excited guests and joining Cone behind the bar.

“I’m lucky enough to have friends in the media. And friends in baseball,” Clancy said.

Castiglione has a rich history with Clancy and Foley’s and was a bridge to bring Lacy into the mix.

“Shawn has known Duke for the longest time and told him that he was putting together a fundraiser for Sandy victims,” said John Mooney of Over The Moon PR, which handled the event. “Duke also mentioned bringing in Steve. He mentioned it on-air and that promo helped.”

The event was also promoted on Twitter, putting the message out daily to their almost 3,000 followers. By 7 PM on Thursday, they weren’t allowing any other patrons in, as a line formed outside the doors. All that promoting, work, and networking led to a glowing success.

In a cozy bar such as Foley’s is, it’s hard not to feel that even with strangers you are among friends.

Bonded by a common goal, we were.

Gotham Baseball LIVE: Ray Negron and “Yankee Miracles”

For Ray Negron, a chance “meeting” with George Steinbrenner changed the course of his life.  In his new book, “Yankee Miracles”,  Negron recalls how the encounter, “saved my life.”  In return, he’s now trying to help others believe that anything is possible.

Born and bred in the Bronx, the then-17 Negron’s vandalism of the House That Ruth Built – he was spray painting a “NY” logo on a wall at Yankee Stadium — was interrupted by none other than the late Boss himself, who instead of calling the cops, gave the troubled kid a job, and as it turns out, an incredible opportunity.

“Yes, baseball saved me,” said Negron, “The day Mr. Steinbrenner found me, I was with two cousins and two brothers. The two cousins are both dead from drugs and my two brothers have been in and out of prisons most of their lives.”

“Yankee Miracles” pulls no punches and details how given a job as a Yankee bat boy, Negron was embraced by the Yankees. People like Steinbrenner, Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson made a lasting impression on him that “lasts to this day”.

“The three of them had such an effect on me,” Negron said. “Billy was such a good man, a religious man, and he used to tell me ‘Ray, you can do whatever you want to do.’

“He was right.”

Soon after, Negron embarked on an amazing journey that took him to places like being Willie Randolph’s minor league double play partner, acting in Francis Ford Coppola’s Cotton Club and later, working as a player agent and confidant to people like Roberto Alomar, Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden.

I first met Ray when he released his first book, the award-winning “The Boy Of Steel“, which was published six years ago. Since then, Negron has released “The Greatest Story Never Told – The Babe and Jackie” and “One Last Time – Good-Bye To Yankee Stadium”. Each of this powerfully written book, all written for children, were part of Negron’s continuing effort to pay forward the kindness — and opportunity — given to him by the Yankees.

He’s appeared in the pages of Gotham Baseball magazine, as well as on the show I used to host at the since-closed Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant , so when I was first sent the book “Yankee Miracles”, I wasn’t really sure I needed to read it. I’d interviewed Ray several times, so what what would be in the book that I didn’t already know?

A lot, as it turns out.

Negron will be a guest on Thursday’s “Gotham Baseball LIVE” to talk abut the new book.

The book is a great read, and an inspiring one as well. For years, Negron has made dozens of charities a priority in his life, and a portion of the proceeds of “Yanke Miracles” are going to benefit the Boys and Girls Clubs, as well as other charities for Cancer research.

You can order the book now at YankeeMiracles.com and also follow the author and his book, as well as upcoming signings and events at Facebook and Twitter @Yankeemiracles

“We’re here for a very short time, and what you do with that time is important,” Negron said. “Especially when you have kids, you have to do what you do for the betterment of mankind. It’s not like I’m a rich guy or anything like that, I came in with nothing, and I’m going to leave with nothing.”

“I (just) want to know when I’m nearing the end, that I can have peace with myself, so when I meet my Maker, I can half at least half-way decent standing with him, know what I mean?”

Yes, Ray, we do. And after reading “Yankee Miracles”, everyone else will too.