The best part of coming to the west coast to play Oakland is that we stay in San Francisco. Its one of the top cities in America with great history and natural beauty. The streetcars still make their way up and down some of the biggest paved inclines you will ever see. On the way from San Francisco to Oakland you can see the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz while crossing the famous Bay Bridge.
When staying in San Fran I highly recommend staying at the historic St. Francis Hotel located in Union Square. Following the famous earthquake of 1906, the St. Francis was the only thing left standing in Union Square and has been a city landmark for over a century. Presidents, Kings and Queens have all laid their heads on the goose feathered pillows at the St. Francis. During World War II the invasion of the Pacific was planned by Admirals Halsey and Nimitz from a suite inside the hotel.
Just across the street from the Hotel you will find Lefty O’Doul’s, a great place to grab a sandwich and a late night beverage after the ballgame. The late O’Doul was inducted into baseball’s hall of fame and was the only outfielder in the 20th century to bat .398 in a season when he played for the NY Giants. After his playing career he continued to promote the game of baseball while coaching and managing. His most famous protege was Joe Dimaggio who played for O’Doul in the Pacific Coast League. The Yankee clipper is best known for his incredible 56-game hitting streak set in 1941 that ended at Cleveland Stadium. But did you know that the Professional Baseball record for most consecutive games with a hit was set by Dimaggio 8 years earlier while playing for his hometown San Francisco Seals? In 1933 Dimaggio hit in an amazing 61 straight games in the Pacific Coast League.
Downtown San Francisco also has plenty of shopping for every taste imaginable. There is also a diner located just about on every block. My personal favorite is Cafe Mason, located on Mason Street near O’Farrell. Try the eggs sardou with bay shrimp and dungeness crab. Its outstanding with just the right amount of spice.
Before coming to San Francisco you might want to rent a movie or two to put you in the mood. There are plenty to choose from as Frisco has always been a favorite shooting spot for Hollywood. If you’re feeling gritty go old school with Dirty Harry which was shot on location throughout the city. If you want a few laughs then go with Foul Play (starring Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase) or try something different and check out The Conversation with Gene Hackman.
Another spot to check out is John’s Grill on Ellis Street. This is where Dashiell Hammett penned one of his most famous novels. The Maltese Falcon is loaded with San Francisco references including John’s Grill where private detective Sam Spade went to eat regularly. Spade favored the grilled lamb chops. John’s Grill is a registered landmark and serves lunch and dinner. The Maltese Falcon is also a great old black and white movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Sidney Greenstreet (for those of you from the generation that doesn’t realize there were films before the advent of color photography!).
Its only 15 games into the 2006 season for Kansas City but the Royals are already under siege from the local media and fans. Three times in the last 4 years they’ve lost at least 100 games. The Royals have already clinched a losing record for the month of April. That makes 16 times in the last 17 years they have ended the first month of the season without a winning record. No other team in baseball lost 11 games in a row last year. The Royals have now done it in back-to-back seasons.
Its not like the Royals are without any talent. Team captain Mike Sweeney is a tremendous power hitter and off the field he’s a humble down-to-earth person. He’s like a right-handed version of Jim Thome. He had four hits in the first game of the series and just missed hitting two homeruns. It was a game that both teams desperately wanted to win. The difference, in my opinion, was that the Royals looked like a team "hoping" to win and the Indians played like a team "expecting" to win.
One of the best things about playing Kansas City is coming to Kauffman Stadium. Its practically a relic by today’s standards but, it has aged better than any park of its era. Opened in 1973, Kauffman Stadium is already the 5th oldest stadium in the American League behind Oakland, Anaheim, New York and Boston. Its located just off the freeway and sits adjacent to Arrowhead Stadium (home of the Kansas City Chiefs) so there is plenty of parking. The park holds close to 41,000 and has a very intimate feel. The grounds are always immaculate and what makes the park unique is the water fountains that span the outfield area just beyond the fences from left field to right field. Ballpark concessions include the famous Kansas City barbecue and if the Royals get twelve hits in a game every fan can redeem their ticket for a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts.
Royals Manager Buddy Bell certainly has alot of hard work ahead of him but, he has been through all of this before and is the perfect man for the job. Buddy understands the demands of the game and just how difficult it can be, especially for young players. He has great patience with players but, he’s not afraid to undress someone if they don’t play the game the correct way.
Making matters even worse for the Royals is the fact that the Central Division is home to some of the league’s best players and pitchers. In their recent 3-game series against Chicago the Royals managed just 1 run and 11 hits. Its going to be very difficult for Kansas City to avoid losing a hundred games for the 4th time in five years.
One of the best things about the game of baseball is that its never the same game twice. Every day you show up at the ballpark there is a chance you will see something you’ve never seen before. Personally I’m still waiting for my first no-hitter. I am one of the few Indians fans who actually admits that he did NOT attend or even watch on television, Len Barker’s perfect game in 1981. The Tribe will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of Barker’s gem with a figurine giveaway on May 13th when the Indians play host to Detroit.
I didn’t see Andre Thornton hit for the cycle in 1978 but, I did see Travis Hafner accomplish the same feat 3 years ago against Minnesota. I also missed Albert Belle’s single season franchise record setting 50th homerun in 1995 but, I was at the microphone when Jim Thome broke that mark seven years later.
I was also calling games for the Tribe when they used a franchise record 32 different pitchers in 2000. I’m sure you remember Dave Burba, Charles Nagy and Chuck Finley but, do you recall Cameron Cairncross, Andrew Lorraine and Kane Davis? Charlie Manuel never got enough credit for the job he did keeping that team in the playoff chase through the final day of the regular season despite the revolving door at the clubhouse entrance.
Despite all of the various injuries the 2000 team suffered I never saw anything like Wednesday night in Baltimore. The Indians lost two pitchers to injuries in the same inning. Matt Miller re-injured his elbow in the 6th inning and two batters later Rafael Betancourt walked off the mound with a strain in his upper back.
Not many people watching the game realized the Indians almost lost second baseman Ronnie Belliard one inning later. When Victor Martinez threw down to the bag after the pitcher had finished warming up, Belliard jumped high in the air to grab the throw and he rolled his ankle when he landed on the base. Being a hard-nosed player Belliard simply had the ankle taped up and he was back in the line-up Thursday afternoon.
Now its off the Kansas City…and watch out for the banana peel.
The season is now officially under way and we are about to settle in for the long grind. The Indians won’t have a day off now until April 24th, which is actually a good thing. Playing every day is what the players are used to so having multiple off-days in a short period of time makes it hard for them to settle in to a routine.
The Tribe will spend Easter weekend in Detroit before going to Baltimore and then Kansas City to wrap up the road trip. The Motor City has become the center of the big event sports world the past few years. The Tigers hosted the All-Star game last summer, the Lions hosted the Super Bowl last February and the NCAA Final Four is coming in a couple of years too. Downtown Detroit is not the most breathtaking place in the world but, it can be a fun town. Greektown is located near Comerica Park and is a collection of Greek restaurants and pastry shops. At the center of it all is the Greektown Casino which is one of three major casinos in Detroit.
Two things you must do if you come watch the Tribe in Detroit.
- Eat before the game at Pizza Papalis in Greektown. The best pizza in the midwest and quite possible some of the best ‘za in the country. Try the original crust with sausage and banana peppers.
- After the game stop for a night cap at the Old Shileleagh. This Irish tavern has live music upstairs and the atmosphere is always lively. Years ago it wasn’t unusual to walk in after a ballgame and see former Indians pitcher Charles Nagy behind the bar serving customers.
Have a happy Easter weekend and enjoy the time with friends and family.
Perhaps no team in baseball needed a fast start more than the Indians. After the past April struggles under Eric Wedge the Tribe seemed determined to make sure it didn’t happen again. Moments after the final out of the first game was recorded in Chicago I could almost hear the shrieks coming from Cleveland, "HERE WE GO AGAIN!"
Monday night I watched the NCAA basketball championship game (yawn) with the Tribe coaching staff at Ditka’s Restaurant in Chicago. I can honestly say that not a single one of them was concerned about what happened the night before. The reason? This team has a quiet confidence and a firm belief that they are ready to take the league by storm. The players sat quietly and watched as the White Sox celebrated their World Championship by raising banners, passing out rings and hoisting the trophy on consecutive days and then spoiled the party by taking 2 out of 3 from Chicago.
It sure was great to finally come home and see a sold-out Jacobs Field for the Home Opener. The fact that Mother Nature cooperated by halting the rains made it more enjoyable for the fans that braved the elements during the early afternoon hours. Casey Blake joined Travis Hafner(’04) and Travis Fryman(’02) in the home opener grand slam club as the Indians pounded Minnesota 11-6.
One of the highlights of the home opener was Casey Coleman throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. Casey is fighting a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer and fired the ball just off the outside corner and into the waiting mitt of Indians Manager Eric Wedge. Afterward Casey spent an inning in the booth with us and he is determined to return to WTAM by June. I wish him well and ask that you keep Casey and his family in your thoughts and prayers.
Did anyone happen to see Tom Hamilton decked out in a tuxedo for opening day? He was asked to wear the penguin suit by the front office while he announced the starting line-ups down on the field. He took quite a bit of abuse from the boys on press row. The comments ranged from, "Hey Tom, who’s the best man?" to, "Hey Tom, isn’t it a little early for prom season?" You have to have a thick skin in this business and Tom certainly does.
Finally…Indians Media Relations Director Bart Swain invited me to join his fantasy baseball league. Bart and 10 guys he went to Ohio University with all descended upon Chicago for the annual draft last Saturday night and it was a riot. Bart has won the league 2 years in a row and has talked more smack than Ali, Deion Sanders and Hulk Hogan combined. I took over a team that finished 10th out of 12 last year so I have some work to do. Its a "keeper league" so I signed Travis Hafner to a long term deal and drafted Aaron Boone. Thanks to their exploits Bart is now chasing me.
PS – Anyone ever heard of Al Cypert?
The fourth spring training under Indians Manager Eric Wedge has a different feel than any of the previous camps. This team is built to contend for the Central Division Championship and beyond. Looking around camp you don’t see alot of 6th year minor league free agents in camp trying to earn a roster spot. The Indians only brought 23 pitchers to Florida as opposed to as many as 33 in the past. This team has a confident air about it that tells anyone who is watching they expect to win in 2006.
Many of the young players in camp are signs that things have changed for the better. In years past these players would be fighting for a spot on the 25-man roster. This year they represent the future of the Indians, and from what I’ve seen this spring, the future is bright. Players like Ryan Garko, Andy Marte, Brad Snyder and Ryan Mulhern are very close to being major-league ready. Pitchers Andrew Brown, Jeremy Sowers, Fausto Carmona and Tony Sipp are evidence that the Indians have solid young reserves in supply at AAA Buffalo.
- The only thing hotter than third baseman Aaron Boone (.500 avg, 2 HR, 2 2b, 4 rbi) this spring has been the weather. Its been 75-80 degrees every day and not a trace of rain this month.
- The only thing worse than the Devil Rays pitching staff has been the traffic on I-4. Between the construction and overpopulation its enough to make you pull your hair out.
- Speaking of Tampa Bay, I spoke to Devil Rays broadcaster Joe Magrane the other day. He thought my blog had something to do with bizarre cult rituals because of the title "Underworld". Joe has a pretty warped sense of humor but, its always a treat to play Tampa just to hear what he’ll say next.
- Bob Feller has been a fixture at Indians Spring Training for more than a decade. He still gets in full uniform and throws out a few ceremonial first pitches while signing autographs for hours. Bob has amazing recall about his career and can take even the most ardent political analyst to task over current issues involving our country.
- Speaking of Feller, October Productions has released a detailed biography of Feller’s life and baseball career. Its available for purchase at Indians team shops and will also be broadcast by WVIZ in Cleveland on March 23rd at 8pm and re-aired Sunday April 2nd at 11am.
- And finally, is anyone watching the WBC? The games that I have seen have been fairly entertaining but, its hard to get past the fact that most of these guys just aren’t ready for highly competitive play at this point in the year.
For those of us lucky enough to travel south to Florida in March for spring training, there is nothing better after a long winter than seeing the palm trees swaying in warm southerly breezes. Just hearing the ball slam into wooden bats and the chatter associated with batting practice is music to our ears this time of year. Watching Travis Hafner launch balls over the fence, newly acquired Todd Hollandsworth stroke line drives into centerfield, Ronnie Belliard and Jhonny Peralta field ground balls with effortless ease and Eric Wedge taking it all in with arms folded like a general preparing his troops for a long arduous battle.
The pitchers always look strong in bullpen sessions this time of year. The ball seems to explode from their hand and the ensuing loud "pop" as the catcher squeezes it behind home plate lets you know that they are throwing serious heat. Carl Willis only has 26 pitchers in camp this year and with good reason. He is confident that this staff can be as successful as last year’s group that led the American League in era.
One of the biggest differences in this year’s spring training as opposed to the previous three years is the fact that there are very few roster spots available. A battle for the utility infielder position and 1 spot in the bullpen is really the only decision for Eric Wedge and his staff this spring.
After two weeks of nothing but batting practice, infield drills and bullpen sessions Wedge and his coaches are now anxious to start playing games. The Grapefruit League begins Thursday for the Indians when they travel to Kissimmee to play the defending National League champion Houston Astros. Personally I can’t wait either because that means its time to get back to work behind the microphone with my partners Tom Hamilton and Mike Hegan.
I’m not trying to rub it in for those of you still battling the snow and ice in northeastern Ohio but, the temperature has been in the 80’s almost everyday. For those of you who can’t make it down to Florida I have an alternative for you. This Saturday at Jacobs Field the Indians are hosting an open house at the ballpark. Single game tickets will be on sale beginning at 10am and you can come down to Jacobs Field and tour the ballpark, take swings in the batting cages and at least for a little while escape the winter doldrums.
Meanwhile here in Winter Haven it feels like baseball season and with that I say, "Let the games begin!"
On the eve of the Indians annual winter press tour rumors began swirling that the Tribe was about to trade popular outfielder Coco Crisp to Boston and the immediate reaction was outrage and shock. Then after a few days rumor spread that the deal was dead because of a failed physical by one of the players coming to Cleveland. The deal was revived when Boston added a conditional player to be named later and now its time to sort out what happened and why.
The Indians lose Crisp (starting leftfielder), David Riske (right-handed set-up man), Arthur Rhodes (Left-handed set-up man) and Josh Bard (back-up catcher). In return they get right-handed hitting Jason Michaels, who will take Crisp’s spot in left. Guillermo Mota, a right-handed set-up man and Kelly Shoppach who will compete for the back-up catcher spot.
The key player however is third base prospect Andy Marte. He came from the Braves farm system which has always been rich in developing position players. Marte was rated the 9th best prospect in all of baseball and he fills a huge future void for the Tribe at third base. Aaron Boone is signed through this season with an option for ’07. The problem the Indians had was looking ahead to free agency they didn’t see anyone available to help and down on the farm they had no one with the ability of Andy Marte. Plus, the Indians have a number of young outfielders in the system that will be major league ready within 2 years. Brad Snyder is on the fast track and he’s slated to start the year at AA before quickly moving to AAA Buffalo. Snyder hit .280 at AA last year with 16 homers and can play all 3 outfield spots. Andy Marte meanwhile is a right-handed bat with power and he’s already spent time in the big league’s at the age of just 21.
The Indians have been left-handed "heavy" for the past several years and Marte and Michaels help to solve that problem. Coco Crisp hit .297 and .300 over the past two seasons but, against left handed pitching he hit just .248 last year with only 5 of his 16 homers coming against southpaws. His on base percentage of .299 also tells you that he’s a bit of a free swinger and doesn’t draw many walks. Jason Michaels on the other hand hit .323 against leftys and his OBP was a hundred points higher than Coco’s.
Guillermo Mota, if healthy, is a big addition to a bullpen that lost Bob Howry to free agency. He’s a big strong guy who throws hard. He led the National League in relief innings pitched in ’03 and ’04 but, was hurt in ’05 and only pitched 67 innings. To ease some of the Tribe’s concerns Boston will send the Indians a player to be named later based on what kind of a year Mota has.
Losing Arthur Rhodes is no concern if Mota is healthy. Despite being left-handed he couldn’t get leftys out. Rhodes allowed left-handed batters to hit 131 points higher than rightys and he really struggled his last two months with the Tribe. In June and July he pitched in 21 games and allowed 6 earned runs and 15 hits in 18 innings while walking 8 batters.
David Riske has been a productive pitcher out of the bullpen but, the Indians feel Fernando Cabrera could be ready to take over that role. Plus they brought in Danny Graves and Steve Karsay to help bolster the middle relief corps.
Kelly Shoppach is a 25-year old catcher who was Boston’s 2nd round pick in the 2001 draft. He was named to the post season International League All-Star team last year and he belted 26 homers during the year at AAA. Unfortunately for Josh Bard he never saw any playing time because Victor Martinez caught 147 games and he really struggled in the back-up role. He doesn’t figure to see the field in Boston though where incumbent Jason Varitek is the leader of the Red Sox.
After all of the analysis this is still a hard trade for many fans to swallow. Coco Crisp became a popular player while the Tribe rebuilt from the ashes and became a legitimate contender last year. I believe however that Mark Shapiro and his staff are trying to help this team for the ’06 season and beyond. While many are already saying the Tribe took a step backwards with this deal, I wouldn’t be so quick to judge. Remember the outrage when the Indians didn’t bring back Omar Vizquel? Turns out the Tribe knew what they were doing with Jhonny Peralta. Maybe they deserve the benefit of the doubt on this one.
Its funny how fickle we can sometimes be as sports fans. Consider that every year at the trading deadline we sit and hope for a big blockbuster trade that will put our team over the top. Of course we only want to trade away bench players and marginal minor leaguers in exchange for low-priced superstars. Ultimately it comes down to changing the roster. Giving something up in order to gain something else. We never seem to have a problem with this type of change,(unless of course its Brian Giles for Ricardo Rincon but, I’m not here to dredge up the past) its the changing of the roster in the offseason that seems to cause us so much more distress.
Players come and go. That’s the way baseball has always been. Even before free agency players were dealt like we used to trade bubblegum cards with our friends. Anyone remember Boston trading Babe Ruth to the Yankees? The great Cy Young pitched for 5 different teams before World War I and my broadcast partner Mike Hegan was traded 4 times during his playing career in exchange for cash!
That doesn’t make change any easier for some of us. Watching players like Scott Elarton, Bobby Howry and Kevin Millwood leave is a bitter pill to swallow. Its like feeling betrayed, either by the team or the player, and we are always in the middle of the feud. In Millwood’s case I knew there was very little chance of him returning. GM Mark Shapiro knew when he signed him last January that if Kevin was healthy and had a good year the Indians probably wouldn’t be able to afford him but, it was well worth the risk at the time. I wish Kevin all the best and I am truly happy for him and his family. That still wont make it any easier when he’s not there in Winter Haven, Florida in February.
Of course when one player exits another enters. Paul Byrd will be a welcome addition to the pitching staff in ’06 and Jason Johnson also gives the rotation a solid veteran presence. The Indians did not replace Millwood through free agency but, I believe there is a very good chance someone from within will step forward to fill the void. Perhaps C.C. Sabathia will now truly become the ace of the Tribe’s pitching staff. Maybe 18-game winner Cliff Lee or Jake Westbrook with 29 wins the past two seasons, will become the leader of the staff. Kevin Millwood’s influence on the Tribe’s pitching staff will be felt in the years to come. Sabathia, Lee, Westbrook and the rest watched very closely how Millwood handled every obstacle with professionalism and they marveled at how he was able to persevere through low-run support to win the ERA title.
Sometimes changes come full circle like in the cases of Danny Graves, Steve Karsay, Einar Diaz and Tim Laker. All four former Indians players are back after pursuing opportunities elsewhere the past few years. Graves believes he can bounce back from a disastrous ’05 season that saw him dumped by Cincinnati after the Indians scored 6 times in the 9th inning against him on May 22. Karsay just wants a chance to show people that he can still pitch after coming back from another arm injury. When I spoke to him near the end of last season he said all he needed was an opportunity and now the Indians have given him one.
Einar Diaz and Tim Laker will come to camp and try to compete with Josh Bard for the back-up job. Diaz was the part-time catcher for St. Louis last year and Laker spent the season in the minors with Tampa Bay. Diaz probably has the best overall ability of the trio but, his bat is nowhere near what it was when he first joined the team in the late 90’s. The good news is that all Eric Wedge is looking for is someone who can give Victor Martinez a few days off here and there.
Speaking of change, a number of you have been asking about the Tribe’s new TV deal. It was officially announced after Christmas and appears to a brave new venture for the Cleveland Indians. The good news for fans is that Tribe baseball will be even more available than ever before. More details will be forthcoming about this new partnership between the Indians, WKYC TV3 and Time Warner Cable.
Baseball’s winter meetings are under way in Dallas, Texas and general managers are wheeling and dealing at every turn. The Indians have already signed one starting pitcher and appear to be on the verge of adding a closer to the bullpen. The dollars that are being thrown around are a bit surprising considering how teams have been more cautious the past few years. Toronto has already guaranteed two separate 5-year contracts for pitching worth more than $100 million. Anyone mention to the Blue Jays that they were 9th in offense last year? Eleventh in home runs, belting 71 fewer than the Indians? If we learned anything in Cleveland over the past decade its this. You win with pitching BUT, you can’t win without a good offense…
Changing themes for a minute – thanks for all your comments on the first blog. I appreciate all the feedback and hope you continue. If I’ve learned anything over the years its that Indians fans are passionate and not afraid to express their opinion. Most of what I read was very supportive of Mark Shapiro’s plan and execution so far. A few of you are nervous about the Tribe not keeping up with the Jones’s, so to speak. One fan in particular, firstname.lastname@example.org is afraid the Tribe won’t re-sign Kevin Millwood. Let me just start by saying that I am too. The problem however isn’t money but, the length of the contract. Anything beyond 3-years is high-risk because it can’t be insured. If a team is willing to guarantee Millwood 4-years with an option for a fifth, it probably won’t be the Tribe. Agent Scott Boras believes that Millwood should get as much or more than AJ Burnett who just snared a 5-year $55 million deal from Toronto. I think you see where I’m going with this…
Congratulations to Grady Little who was hired as the new manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Grady was a solid bench coach for Charlie Manuel during his time here in Cleveland. I never saw anyone hit a fungoe as high in the air as Grady Little. One day we were in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida when he tried to hit the highest catwalk attached to the roof. Ultimately he came up short but, in the process he blew out a rib cage muscle effectively ending his fungoe ability for the remainder of the season. I always felt he got a raw deal in Boston and it’s good to see him back in uniform. Unfortunately Indians third base coach Joel Skinner lost out in that situation. Skinner interviewed for the job and one day will make a good manager but, selfishly I’m glad he’ll be back with the Tribe…
Congratulations also to Indians GM Mark Shapiro for being named Executive of the Year by both The Sporting News (November) and Baseball America (today). I know alot of people were scratching their heads when he began the dismantling and rebuilding process 4 years ago but, his diligence has paid off for the Tribe. Right now Mark is probably wishing he could find a deal at the winter meetings like the one the Team Shops are offering. Indians hooded sweatshirts are two for the price of one! If only starting pitching or bullpen help came packaged the same way.
Happy Holidays and keep the comments coming.