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March 2018

February 2018

Documentary "The Other Boys of Summer” Tells Untold Story of Negro Leagues, Mamie "Peanut" Johnson

By Sydnee Williams

At a time where segregation was at an all time high, the Negro Leagues reflected societal hatred, with African-Americans kept from participating in Major League Baseball. 

Taking matters into their own hands, the Negro Leagues, a union made up of blacks and latinos, were formed. The familiar names we associate with the league-- Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, and Toni Stone, with Robinson, of course, the most prominent trailblazer in MLB history. But those other names, highly revered by teammates, opponents, fans and historians, must be acknowledged for their place in making history. 

Two that should be highlighted in bold in the history books, Johnson and Toni Stone, are female pioneers of the game that don’t garner enough praise or acknowledgment. They played alongside the men of the Negro Leagues. Heart and soul, teamed with their undeniable skill, should make them fixtures in the history books.

Johnson was the only female pitcher in the Negro Leagues. As a child, "Peanut" and her uncle would get creative with ways to play the game she so loved. “They improvised bats out of tree limbs, bases out of pie plates and balls from rocks wrapped in tape. To strengthen her right arm, Belton [Johnson] threw rocks at crows sitting on the fence of her grandmother’s farm.” (visionaryproject.org) She was denied an opportunity to try out for the All-Girls League, so she took that frustration and turned it into determination, hence becoming the first female pitcher in the Negro League. Never paid more than $700 a month and continuously mocked by opponents, yet she carried herself with class. 

Reflecting on her journey, all I can think about is African-American pitcher Mo’ne Davis. The first girl in Little League World Series history to pitch a shutout and winning game, at 16. Many young fans may not be familiar with Stone or Johnson, but their legacy is surely living on through Davis. 

Marcenia “Toni” Stone, wise in age, became the first woman to ever play in the Negro League. Growing up playing in the sandlots of St. Paul, she was not new to the idea of playing with the opposite sex. Arriving in San Francisco in the 1940’s with just 50 cents to her name, she started building a new life. She changed her name to Toni and took several years off her age to catch the eye of men’s teams. She began playing with the San Francisco Sea Lions before scoring big with the Indianapolis Clowns. With sketchy record keeping in the Negro Leagues, she was reported to be 22 instead of her actual age of 32. Toni played hard and gave the team a boost for a period, but due to her age, old for baseball, and deteriorating performance, she began getting the cold shoulder from teams. She became an outsider on her own team, retiring  after a  short time with the last club she played for, the Kansas City Monarchs.

Fall of the League

The most relevant and honored of them all, of them all, Robinson joined the Major Leagues on April 15, 1947 when he became the second basemen for the Brooklyn Dodgers (now Los Angeles Dodgers). Inadvertently, even though he was a pioneer and did nothing but good for the sport, there was collateral damage done to the players who were pioneers in the Negro Leagues. The leagues began seeing a drop in attendance, and the bigger names such as Hank Aaron, eventually left and joined Robinson in MLB. The Negro Leagues ultimately folded. The end of an era for some blacks who had finally found something they could identify with.

That brings us to "The Other Boys of Summer," executive produced by Lauren Meyer, a documentary that set out to highlight these “forgotten” players. We chatted about the film, the history and the impact of the Negro Leagues:

SW: What inspired you to make this documentary and when can people expect to see the full version?

Lauren Meyer: I began to research and interview players for “The Other Boys of Summer” because I didn’t understand what made people believe that segregation made any sense. I wanted to learn what it was like to pursue your dreams in a segregated America. The goal is to begin screenings this summer. 

SW: What was your goal when you set out to make this film? What do you want the audience to leave with? 

LM: I want people to see that you can pursue your dreams and make a positive impact. These men and women dreamed of playing baseball and they worked hard, played well, carried themselves with class and humility and not only changed the game but changed America. I want the viewers to leave inspired. 

SW: Mamie Johnson and Toni Stone were two of only three women to play in the Negro Leagues. What kind of insight can viewers expect to learn about them in this documentary pertaining to their journeys? 

LM: I didn’t interview or delve into Toni Stone. I interviewed Mamie “Peanut” Johnson and she talks about what it was like being a girl and being black and wanting to play the game she loved. According to her stories she was treated with respect by her teammates while playing for the Indianapolis Clowns and she felt like one of the family. She was very proud to have been the only female pitcher in the history of the Negro League. 

SW: Most people are familiar with Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige but not many others who endured the tough life of the Negro League. Who touched you the most through these talks the people might not have heard of and why? 

LM: Each player I interviewed shared personal stories and I enjoyed meeting them all. John Miles grew up in San Antonio Texas and never imagined he would be able to make a living playing professional baseball, but he did and he was proud to have done so. He talks about never imagining the day when blacks and whites would play on the same team. To this day he holds the record for most consecutive games in professional baseball with a HR (home run). He hit a HR in 11 games in a row while playing for the Chicago American Giants. Learning how Jackie Robinson continued to barnstorm with the Negro League players after he was playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers surprised me. After the end of the MLB season he would select a bunch of players from the Negro Leagues and barnstorm through the country. They experienced extreme racism while traveling but the players all said they learned a great deal from Jackie about like and baseball.

SW: Racial slurs and pay that barely supported them was the lifestyle for these players. Decades later, what is the tone they talk with when reflecting on all the hardships they went through?

LM: Not one of them was bitter when I asked them if it made them angry to be treated the way they were treated. 100% of them said, “No. That’s just the way it was.” They were thrilled to have the chance to play the game they loved. They epitomize class and humility. 

Remembering and honoring those that risked so much to play the game they loved when so many wanted different is critical. As Meyer said, they did not only change the game of baseball, but they changed America. 

 

Sydnee Williams is a sports journalist out of the DC area. She covers all dc sports on halfstreetsports.com. She covers the Washington Nationals for Fox Sports 1340am. You can follow her on Twitter @sydneeW_

 

 

 

 


Landing: Blue Jays Minor Leaguers and Where They Might be Assigned

By Tammy Rainey

While we're still more than a month away from seeing MiLB teams begin to announce the rosters, the Toronto Blue Jays have some conundrums coming up that are worth a closer than usual examination. Typically, a fan with some basic knowledge of their favorite team's system can offer up a fair estimation of where the 120ish players who'll make the roster of the system's four full season teams will land. If you can read the player's previous track record, are aware of who's left the system (and joined it) and have paid attention to the prospect discussions you could probably guess right on around 80% of assignments. Typically the only mildly difficult part is guessing which of the short-season guys from last summer do well enough in the spring to break camp on a full-season team. Not, of course, that the average fan is as compulsive about such things as some others (like, oh, i dunno, this writer maybe).

 
That applies, of course, to the Blue Jays' system this year as it does most years, however, there is more quality depth in upper level pitching prospects this year than I can ever recall before. Not to say it is the best set of top shelf prospects, but rather that there are enough quality guys that you as management want to keep in your system that you run into some crowding situations where you cannot assign a player as high as you might have in a thinner system. This applies, also, to a pair of fielding positions - shortstops and catchers. Let's take a closer look at the circumstances.
 
If you are projecting the pitching staffs for each of the full season teams, working downwards from AAA, you don't have to go far before you begin to recognize the issue. In Buffalo, it's considered a given that LH Starters Ryan Borucki and Tomas Pannone will be promoted to AAA based on their outstanding 2017 performance. It's true that the former only made seven starts in AA but there's not a whisper around the team that he'll go back there. Besides those two, Joe Biagini is likely ticketed for that rotation, along with minor league free-agent (and former Blue Jays first rounder) Deck McGuire. Contending for the fifth spot is former top-100 prospect Tyler Guerrieri (the front runner, in my opinion, if he doesn't make the Jays) along with last years surprise story Chris Rowley and re-signed swingman Luis Santos. That's a very solid group that really has no room for a surprise interloper (it's also  a massive upgrade on recent Bisons rotations). The bullpen is similarly full. With only two open spots now in Toronto's bullpen, and veteran contenders for those in camp, young pitchers Tim Mayza, Matt Dermody, and Carlos Ramirez may well get more seasoning along with returning Chad Girodo and Murphy Smith and you're already up to seven guys. Then there's Rule 5 draftee Drew Muren  and minor league signing Rhiner Cruz and you see where I'm going here. This 'pen is plenty full. 
 
Why this matters is that in a normal year Andrew Case, who had a 1.58 ERA in AA last year and dominated in the AFL would be an obvious promotion. Spring invitee Justin Schafer would have a shot, so would Dusty Issacs. Some even argue that starter prospects Sean Reid-Foley (who had a sideways year in '17) and former first-rounder Jon Harris (even worse) would still be eyed for promotion but there's just not a job there.

This effect trickles down. Besides the three relievers I mentioned above, I can point to seven more guys (one of whom has been a starter most of his career) who were either in AA last year (and are worth keeping) or in Dunedin and really need to be promoted. Besides the two named starters, there are two guys from Dunedin you pretty much have to promote (Jordan Romano and Angel Perdomo), and a third - TJ Zuech - who could easily force the issue. It's only lck of innings last year that would argue against him. And that's all assuming a couple of guys who got roughed up last year are sent packing. Moving down to Dunedin, the reason Zuech is a candidate for AA is because there are more than five other SP who can fill that rotation at least four of whom are regarded as legitimate prospects. Indeed, through three levels and 15 nominal SP spots, there are as many as 10 or 11 SP who show up on various Top 30 rankings. Lansing will likely feature a rotation made up of the cream of the short season crop. Even if we're assuming Nate Pearson skips over to Dunedin one can still easily identify more than twice as many potentially worthy guys as their are openings. On these levels too there are plenty of worthy bullpen candidates.
 
Moving out into the offensive positions, if we assume no rookie breaks camp with Toronto, the Jays have two guys(Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire) who ought to be the "full" time catcher in Buffalo, another (Max Pentecost) who ought to be the full time guy in New Hampshire, a 2017 college draftee (Riley Adams) who'd normally pencil into Dunedin and as many as four lesser guys who could make an argument for starting most of the time in Lansing at a minimum. A couple of those guys might be pushed ahead to be the second stringer candidates in Dunedin but there are several guys they like and for whom they would like to get at bats.

Similarly the Blue Jays have a clogged pipeline at shortstop.With Aledmys Diaz set to play a reserve role in Toronto, the projected major league roster does not have a place for glove-man Gift Ngope. Of course he would normally be the everyday starter at Buffalo but there's more to consider.. At AA New Hampshire the team had prospect Richard Urena, who gather some time in Toronto late last year but still needs development as a hitter, and Cuban signing Lourdes Gurriel, Jr who may be ticketed for a utility role in the majors but needs reps at shortstop most. In a normal year you'd see either or both promoted, but how do you distribute the at-bats? One can easily argue Urena needs to hit his way out of AA, but Gurriel really ought to be in AA and ought not be on the same team as another highly regarded SS prospect. But wait! There's still more! #2 prospect, a guy you may have heard of named Bo Bichette, finished 2017 in Dunedin and demonstrated that league holds little challenge for him, particularly as a hitter. But if you have Gurriel and Urena in AA he has no room to move up. Think I'm done? 2017 first rounder Logan Warmoth is exactly the sort of player that would move from short season directly to Dunedin but - well, you get the idea. Plus, if he's forced to head to Lansing instead then there are at least three other guys the team likes who stand to lose at-bats in the process.
 
So, what to do?
 
I'm clearly not a professional but here's how I would do it. First, I'd have a clear understanding of which guys i would have promoted if I had an opening (clearly the team has this knowledge).  Then I would look for opportunities to "train" certain openings together. For example, suppose you had an injury of some duration in Toronto (say, without too much imagination, Tulo). That prompts Diaz to move up but also opens the door for Gurriel which in turn creates a chance for Bo and likewise Warmoth which opens at bats in Lansing for, say, Kevin Smith. To be sure, on paper this seems obvious, and it only delays the problem if everyone stays healthy, but as the season wears on it allows results, and injuries, to sort things out for you a bit. Ultimately, the point is that the Jays should not be afraid (and I don't think they are, it's more likely an issue for reporters) to start prospects at a lower level than they "normally" would. If Luke Malie is the reserve in Toronto, assign Jansen to Buffalo and let him get the lion's share of time behind the plate. Send McGuire back to AA and ask him to prove his late-season offensive outburst wasn't a fluke. Let Pentecost go back to Dunedin and keep that uncertain shoulder close to the medical staff for another 6-8 weeks while the northern cities warm up. You want them higher at some point of course but taking a couple of months for the situation to develop on the field isn't a bad thing.

Blue Jays fans, meanwhile, can look forward to the system generating so many good players they don't have room for all of them.
 
Tammy Rainey is a contributing writer for Baseball Prospectus Toronto and a trans-activist. You can follow her on Twitter @Tammy_Beth.

They've Got Glove: Netflix-- "Million Dollar Arm"

By Morgan Romans

 
The 2014 film Million Dollar Arm explores the game-changing process of reaching to other areas of the world to find untapped markets for athletes in order to play baseball, and give them the rarest of opportunities.
 
The best part? It’s a true story. 
 
J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) and his partner have opened their own agency, but all their “big name” clients were/had retired, putting them in a financial bind. That’s when they get creative. Bernstein just so happens to flip on the television and see a cricket game (cricket is kind of the king-pin of sports in India). He decides this is a huge opportunity and decides to stage a reality-game show of sorts to find two young men in India with the most potential that they can cultivate into major leaguers in one year. 
 
The issue is this: “bowling” in cricket is a much difference act than pitching in baseball.
 
Bernstein starts to assemble his team and reaches out to Tom House, played by the late Bill Paxton, former MLB coach who, at the time, was the current pitching coach at the University of Southern California. The intention is to have House train the men into professional-grade pitchers. 
 
House is viewed as a bit crazy, but effective, making him the right man for the job. Yet, even the man who is thought to be a little off his rocker is certain that getting to a try-out in just a year is impossible. 
 
Bernstein, House and Ray Potevint (Alan Arkin), a long-time major league scout, arrive in India and host the tryout. Luckily, an Indian man, with a love for baseball offers to work with them for free and be their translator of sorts. Two men come out on top: Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, played respectively by Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal. The duo, both from poverty stricken areas of India, do not speak or understand English. 
 
Singh, Patel and the translator head to America where they begin training. The film takes you through their training and through the adjustment of a new life for the American men. The ensuing action is humorous as the culture shock sets in, and the emotional reaction to the shift in their lives is thought-provoking, 
 
Singh and Patel go for their major league tryout with the whole country watching. This leads to a turning point that creates more opportunity for them to battle their shortcomings, and fight for what they're investing their heart and time into. In one beautiful moment between the translator and the athletes he tells them of all the Indian boys looking up to them and that they're fulfilling the dreams of so many.
 
Like any good sports movie, it is a story of hope, while also telling the unique story of foreign born players and untapped markets in a changing industry.
 
 
 
 

Blue Jays Spring Training Report, Part 1: Questions and Possibilities

 By Karen Soutar

 

The start of spring training, which baseball fans everywhere have been waiting for.     

This is a good time to take a look at where things stand with the Toronto Blue Jays, considering moves made (and non-moves as well).

 

There are some teams that are going for it, who've added proven star players in an attempt to contend, and win, in 2018.    This includes teams such as the Yankees, Mets, Giants, Brewers, Cubs, Twins and Angels.     

Some other teams are clearly rebuilding for the future, trading away those established players in the hopes of building a contender down the road.    Rebuilding teams include the Marlins, Pirates and Rays.

 

The Jays are somewhere in between going all in and rebuilding.     They have made a number of moves this off season, and all appear to be solid but unspectacular moves, especially when you consider the players they've replaced.      Let’s go around the horn and look at the current state of the team, including some comparative numbers with last year’s team.

 

Infield:

 

The corner infield positions appear to be set with 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson at 3B and 2017 all star Justin Smoak at 1B.   If they are both healthy and Smoak plays like he did in 2017, the Jays will have no problems at corner infield.   Middle infield however is where things are less certain.     The first string SS Troy Tulowitzki has averaged 108 games played in the last 3 years and the first string 2B Devon Travis just 71 over that same time period.    Tulo is a five time all star and Travis has shown a great deal of promise in his young career with a .292/.331/.462 slash line but it is reasonable to think that one if not both could spend significant time on the DL, given their respective history.   Tulo, it was revealed early on at Jays’ spring training is dealing with a chronic bone spur in his right heel  and he isn’t certain that he will be ready for the regular season opener. (www.numberfire.com/.../toronto-s-troy-tulowitzki-heel-unsure-if-he-ll-be-read..)  Back up infielders become key to the team’s success. 

 

Last year, the back up infielders were Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney.    Now, both are with other organizations, while the Jays traded for Aledmys Diaz from the Pirates and Yangervis Solarte from the Padres.    In terms of performance in 2017, Diaz/Solarte are significant upgrades over Goins/Barney.   

Offensively Solarte slashed .255/.314/.416 in 2017, and Diaz .259/.290/.392.    The Jays hope that Diaz will hit closer to his all star season in 2016 when he hit .300/.369/.510 however even if Solarte and Diaz only duplicate their 2017 numbers, it will be an improvement over Goins/Barney.     Goins hit .237/.286/.356 and Barney .232/.275/.327.    In terms of defence, both Goins and Barney used to be elite defenders, but their skills decline.    Barney was a gold glove 2B in 2012 for the Cubs and Goins had 8 DRS (defensive runs saved) in 2015.    In 2017 both had -5 DRS.    Solarte in 2017 had +1 DRS and Diaz had -9.

 

One prospect to keep an eye out for is Lourdes Gurriel jr.    As a 21 year old playing in Cuba, he slashed .344/.407/.560.   

The Cuban league is not MLB and Gurriel did struggle initially in his first season in the Jays’ minor league system, but he seemed to find his stride playing in the Arizona Fall League, slashing .291/.309/.494.    He plays second base, shortstop and left field.    If any of the above mentioned infielders need to go on the DL, he could be called up sooner than later.

 

Outfield:

 

The Jays figure to use Kevin Pillar as their everyday CF again in 2018.   Pillar has finished in the top three in gold glove voting for AL centre fielders in each of the last three seasons.   The Jays went in to the off season with questions at both corner outfield positions.    In 2017 the everyday RF was the very popular (among Jays fans anyway) Jose Bautista, he is still on the free agent market after the Jays declined a mutual option on him for 2018.     In LF, the majority of the innings were shared by Steve Pearce and Ezeqiuel Carrera prior to the arrival of September call up Teoscar Hernandez.    It has been speculated that the Jays plan to use Grichuk as the everyday RF replacing Bautista, and in LF to play Granderson against right handed pitchers (in 2017 Granderson posted a .214/.337/.470 against right handed pitching, good for an OPS of .806) and Pearce against left handed pitching (Pearce’s career slash line vs LHP is .262/.345/.492 for an OPS of .837).

 

Jays fans also have to face that Bautista’s best days appear to be behind him.    At the plate in 2017, he posted a .203/.308/.366 slash line while setting a Jays single season record with 170 strikeouts.     On the defensive side of the ball, Bautista had -8 DRS.     25 year old Grichuk figures to be an upgrade on both sides of the ball.    Before the all star break, Grichuk struggled.   He was demoted to the minor leagues on May 29, recalled on June 25 and then went on the 10 day DL from July 10 to July 21.     After the all star break; however, he posted a .265/.303/.550 slash line.     Defensively, Grichuk was good for +6 DRS.     In terms of defence in LF, Granderson should be an improvement over Carrera, based on 2017 number.     Granderson who will be 37 on opening day in 2018 had -3 defensive runs saved in 2017, which is far better than Carrera’s -14.   

 

Other prospects who could see time with the Jays if any of the above get injured are the aforementioned Teoscar Hernandez, Anthony Alford, and Dalton Pompey.    Hernandez hit 8 HR and 20 RBI with the Jays in September 2017 however he has 64 strikeouts in 188 major league at bats.    Pompey has hit well in his minor league career to the tune of .280/.366/.403 and he also has 155 stolen bases in MiLB, an element of speed that the Jays have been severely lacking in recent years.    Canadian Pompey is looking for another shot at MLB after making his major league debut in September of 2014 but struggling in 2015 and being sent back to the minor leagues.    Unfortunately in 2017 he was limited to 13 games due to injuries.  Alford was ranked the 60th best prospect by Baseball America.  (https://www.baseballamerica.com/minors/top-100-mlb-prospects-2018/#tO3wi4d4AIm60UpQ.97).   He hit .299/.390/.406 in MiLB in 2017 and a very impressive .352/.386/.505 in the Mexican League this past off season.

 

Rotation:

 

The Jays’ 1-4 starters Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, JA Happ and Marco Estrada are returning from 2017.    Of those four, only Stroman was healthy and effective all season in 2017, posting a 13-9 record with a 3.09 era which was 4th in the AL.    Sanchez and Happ both spent significant time on the DL in 2017 and Estrada struggled mid-season with an era of 9.11 in June and 6.48 in July.  Sanchez’ health will be key to the Jays’ success or failure in 2018.  The good news for Jays fans is that Sanchez has looked dominant so far in camp, with no signs of the injuries that plagued him all of 2017.  (https://www.mlb.com/bluejays/news/aaron-sanchez-feels-good-after-live-bp-session/c-266775566)  In 2016 he was an All Star and the AL Era champion (3.00) but in 2017 he played in only 8 games due to recurring blister problems and three separate DL stints.    The Jays signed free agent Jaime Garcia to a one year contract plus club option for 2019 and he figures to be their number 5 starter.  Garcia posted a 4.41 era with three teams in 2017 and figures to be a big improvement over the parade of number 5 starters the Jays used in 2017.    Joe Biagini, who it was assumed would fill the 5th starter’s spot prior to the Garcia signing has had much more success as a relief pitcher than he has as a starter.    In 2017 he posted an era of 4.26 out of the bullpen and 5.73 as a starting pitcher.     The Garcia signing allows the Jays to use Biagini in relief where he has had success or to send him to AAA to refine his abilities as a starting pitcher for the future and rotation depth as needed.

 

If any of the top 5 should get injured, Biagini would be an option to rejoin the Jays rotation.    In terms of minor league prospects, the closest to major league ready is LHP Ryan Borucki.    Borucki played at A ball, AA and AAA in 2017.     He started the season at Dunedin (A) where he went 6-5 with a 3.58 era in 98 innings.     He was then promoted to AA where he went 2-3 with a 1.94 era in 46.1 innings.    Finally he finished off the season in AAA where he went 0-0 with a 0.00 era in 6 innings.

 

Bullpen:

 

Jays have returning RHPs Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes and closer Roberto Osuna, and possibly Biagini from the right side.    LHP Aaron Loup figures to be joined by either Matt Dermody or Tim Mayza.    Dominic Leone who excelled for the Jays in 2017 was traded to St Louis in the Grichuk trade so his innings will need to be replaced.      Barnes and Tepera both had solid seasons in their first full year in MLB with a 3.55 and 3.59 era respectively.     Osuna had 22 saves and a 2.06 era before the all star break which earned him his first all star selection; unfortunately he struggled with 7 blown saves and a 4.97 era after the break.       

 

The Jays signed a number of veteran pitchers to minor league contracts including Craig Breslow, John Axford, Jake Petricka and Al Alburquerque in hopes that at least one of them can recapture some of their prior MLB success and provide bullpen help.  However, if they could manage to acquire at least one more pitcher with recent major league success, it should go a long way toward helping the team contend in 2018.

 

Catcher:

 

Russell Martin will be in the fourth year of a 5-year contract with the Jays in 2018.  With his veteran status and career success including four All Star selections, Martin is the number one catcher if he is healthy.   But he was limited to 91 games in 2017 at age 34, and catcher is one of the most taxing positions on a player’s body.     Having decent back up catching options is important.   Barring an acquisition, Luke Maile figures to be the backup catcher.    Maile hit .121/.154/.202 prior to landing on the DL on July 5 where he had a procedure to repair a torn meniscus.     After he was activated from the DL, his hitting improved dramatically, going .226/.250/.323 the rest of the season.     These are decent  numbers for a backup catcher who is good defensively.     

Other catchers on the 40 man roster are Danny Jansen who hit .323/.400/.484 combined for 3 Jays minor league teams  and Reese McGuire, who has been known as a “defence first” catcher for most of his minor league career but who has made good progress with the bat lately (.295/.376./.483 with three minor league teams in 2017).    Either Jansen or McGuire could make their major league debut in 2018 if Martin or Maile end up on the DL.

 

Designated Hitter:

 

When the Jays signed Kendrys Morales to a 3-year, $33 million contract on November 11, 2016 for roughly half of what it might have cost them to re-sign Edwin Encarnacion, it seemed to be a good signing on paper.  The results were disappointing.    He hit .250/.308/.445, all lower than his career averages of .270/.328/.462 and did so with hitter friendly Rogers Centre as his home ballpark where it had been speculated that he would excel, while also setting a career high with 132 strikeouts.     If the Jays have any hopes of contending in 2018, they need more production at the DH spot.     As it stands, Jays fans have to hope that Morales rebounds from a down season.     Another possibility, if they can manage to trade Morales to a team looking for an established bat, would be to use Granderson/Pearce as a DH platoon and call up one of the aforementioned outfield prospects for LF.     

Pearce is not a natural outfielder, he was used there out of necessity in 2017, and it showed on many occasions.     

Getting younger and more athletic especially in the outfield would give the Jays a much better chance of contending.

 

The current state of the Blue Jays is one of a team that looks pretty good on paper, but a lot will need to go right for them, including health, if they're to contend for the postseason in 2018.    

 


Old Dusty Baseball Book Vault: Jane Leavy's 'Squeeze Play' Plays with the Lines of Fiction and Reality in MLB

By Allison Place

Jane Leavy is a master of moments. Whether it be the moment an improbable perfect game becomes a reality or the moment a monumental story appears, quite literally, before her main character’s eyes, Leavy perfectly conveys anxiety, happiness, fear, whatever the emotion may be. Squeeze Play

Picture this: it’s the All-Star game and your team only has one representative. He’s at the plate with the chance to give your league the victory – sure, it’s only the All-Star game, but your team is in the midst of a losing season, and you haven’t seen many of these high-stakes plate appearances. Can you feel the anxiousness, the nervous excitement? Leavy puts that exact feeling into words, transporting her reader to the stadium as, pitch-by-pitch, the game’s fate awaits. My copy is littered with page flags, each marking a different set of lines that made me feel like I was in that press box, in the clubhouse, or even in the game.

Moments aside, Squeeze Play suffers from the same fate I fear my Tigers’ upcoming season will: it drags on entirely too long. Spanning an entire summer, there are bound to be some moments that aren’t really publish-worthy, but seeing as this is written as a diary belonging to sports reporter A.B. Berkowitz, it makes sense for Leavy to include every last one – even if I think that the story as a whole suffers for it. Who am I to make that decision anyways? This isn’t a complete deterrent, though, as you can always count on Squeeze Play to return to hot stove status. It makes sense, then, that a lot of the supporting cast gets lost in the shuffle; after all, we are dealing with an entire 25-man roster and a fully-staffed newsroom.

Prominent players, like the one who has a nickname to match his oft-displayed genitalia or the one who our narrator finds herself fostering an attraction to, are some of the only ones that really feel dimensional. Others read as flat, adding to the confusion I had while reading, like the one who I can think nothing of but the fact that he microwaved a cat (yeah, that happens). Not to mention that while I can name some of A.B.’s colleagues, I couldn’t come close to telling you what they do at the paper. Still, I can see why Allen Barra (in a review for Entertainment Weekly) hailed Squeeze Play as the best baseball novel to ever be written upon its publishing in 1990.

Drawing from her own experience as a sportswriter, Leavy shapes her lead character as witty, smart and undeniably good at what she does. While absurd, these situations are ones that I trust to be rooted in reality, and there are the flashes of racism, sexism and overall machoism that we know to be true in baseball. Leavy doesn’t write a perfect clubhouse and I admire that. At once funny, poignant, exhausting, and incredibly thorough, the newly revived Washington Senators’ season is in capable hands with Leavy’s Berkowitz, delivering scoop after unmatched scoop.

Allison Place is a book-loving baseball fan who likes to combine the two on her twitter, @booksandbalks. She has a blog by the same name that is mostly defunct but may feature the occasional post when inspiration hits, which you can find at booksandbalks.blogspot.com.


Harry Leroy, The Blue Jay

By Karen Soutar

Harry Leroy Halladay. He went by Roy and was affectionately nicknamed Doc. The Toronto Blue Jays drafted him with their first pick in the 1995 draft. He would become the face of their franchise for the better part of a decade. This is a look back on the Halladay's Jays career highlights. 

September 20, 1998 - I was fortunate enough to be in Florida for the Jays series against the Rays September 18-20. The Jays found themselves in the hunt for the AL wild card spot that September. Talk around the team was that if they thought they still had a realistic shot at the wild card, the more experienced Chris Carpenter would get the start on the Sunday but if not, it would go to highly touted prospect Roy Halladay. Once the Jays lost the Friday and Saturday games, Doc got the nod for his major league debut. As hard as it was to deal with losses in the previous two games when the Jays had a legitimate shot to go back to the postseason, Roy's debut was very exciting to be able to attend. There was something about his demeanor right from the beginning that signaled to teammates, opponents and fans that he belonged there. Unlike some rookies, he wasn’t the least bit intimidated by being in “The Show”. The result for Halladay was 5 innings pitched, 3 runs, 2 earned runs in a game the Jays ultimately won in 12 innings. Not a bad MLB debut, but the best was yet to come for Doc.

September 27, 1998 - Back in Toronto, the final day of the regular season. In only his second career major league start, Halladay demonstrated his dominant potential in taking a no hitter in to the 9th inning vs the Detroit Tigers. With two outs in the top of the 9th, Bobby Higginson, who hit .284/.355/.480 that year, pinch hit and hit his 25th home run that season, ending the no hitter and the shut out with one swing of the bat. Still, Halladay would get the first complete game victory of his career, 2-1. The Jays and their fans went in to the off season full of hope for the future.

Unfortunately for Halladay and the Jays, the next two seasons weren’t as successful. His 8-7 record and 3.92 era in 1999 weren’t terrible for his first full season in the majors, but the club knew he was capable of much more. His career went south in 2000, finishing the season with a 4-7 record and an ugly era of 10.64, the worst era in MLB history for any pitcher with at least 50 innings pitched in a season. Ultimately Halladay himself went south, beginning the 2001 season with the Jays’ single A affiliate in Dunedin, Florida. There, he worked with former Jays’ pitching coach Mel Queen and accepted his recommendations. In order to get major league hitters out, he couldn’t just rely on throwing in the mid to high 90s, up in the strike zone, with the same delivery. Queen rebuilt Halladay’s delivery, taught him new grips for the pitches as well as a new mental approach to the game. (https://www.usatoday.com/sports/baseball/al/bluejays/2008-05-08-jayshalladay_N.htm?loc=interstitialskip)

It is very much to Halladay’s credit that he accepted Queen’s recommendations. Many professional ball players think that they have everything figured out especially once they have played in MLB, in spite of results to the contrary and refuse to be coached. Halladay on the other hand was going to do whatever it took to improve which he definitely did. He worked his way back up through the Jays’ minor league system and rejoined the Jays mid way through the 2001 season. Once he was back up, there was no more looking back.

For a span of 10 years from 2002-2011, Halladay was one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball. In 2002 he earned his first of 8 All Star selections on the way to a 19-7 record and a 2.93 era. In 2003, his dominance reached another level, going 22-7 with a 3.25 era and his first of two career Cy Young awards. Doc led the American League that year in wins (22), games started (36), complete games (9), shutouts (2), innings pitched (266) and strikeout to walk ratio (6.38). His 2003 season was highlighted by one extra special outing.

September 6, 2003. Halladay pitched one of the best games of his career, a 1-0, ten inning shut out victory over the Detroit Tigers. I’m not sure what is more impressive, the fact that he only needed 99 pitches over 10 innings, 70 of which were strikes or the fact that the game took only 2 hours and 3 minutes to play. Through most of his career, Halladay was known for working deep in to games while maintaining the ability to get hitters out, working quickly and throwing strikes all of which were demonstrated on that day.

On January 22, 2004 - Halladay signed a 4 year, $42 million contract with Toronto, his first of two contract extensions with the club that drafted and developed him. As one of the top pitchers in baseball coming off of a Cy Young award winning season, he could have waited for free agency and almost certainly gotten even more money elsewhere but Doc was loyal. He wanted to stay in Toronto and win a championship in Toronto. The 2004 season itself was a down year by Halladay standards, going 8-8 with a 4.20 era and two disabled list stints, both due to right shoulder problems. In 2005 he was back to him dominant self, going 12-4 with a 2.41 era before the all star break. Halladay was not only chosen to the AL all star team in 2005, he had been chosen as the starting pitcher for the AL but on July 8, Texas Rangers’ Kevin Mench hit a ball that hit Halladay in the leg and broke his leg and the hearts of Jays fans, ending Halladay’s season.

March 16, 2006 - Halladay signed his second multi-year contract with the Blue Jays, a 3 year deal through the 2010 season. From 2006-2009, Halladay continued to excel for the Blue Jays, posting a 69-33 record over that span. He was an All Star in three of those four years including July 14, 2009 when he was the starting pitcher for the American League. He finished in the top 5 in Cy Young voting in all four years. Still, the Jays couldn’t secure that elusive postseason birth, but not for lack of trying. On November 25, 2005, they signed free agent closer BJ Ryan to a 5 year contract and on December 6 of that same year, they signed one of the better free agent starting pitchers that year AJ Burnett to a 5 year deal. Adding those arms to an already talented team which included Halladay, they Jays thought they finally had a team that could contend for a championship. They did manage a second place finish in 2006 but it wasn’t enough for the wild card spot. In 2007 they finished 3rd, and in 2008 and 2009 they could only manage a 4th place finish in the AL East division.

Meanwhile Halladay had become increasingly frustrated. The Jays were clearly going in the wrong direction in terms of winning and making the postseason. He had remained loyal to the Blue Jays as long as he felt that he could. At age 32 in 2009 and with zero career postseason appearances, he knew it was time for a change. Halladay was very candid with Toronto’s front office after the 2009 season. (www.espn.com/mlb/news/story?id=4702760) He would not be signing any more contract extensions with Toronto after his current deal expired following the 2010 season. He wanted to play for a contending team so the Jays had two choices – they could grant his request for a trade to a contender and get as much as they could in return or lose him to free agency a year later. They ultimately traded Halladay to the Philadelphia Phillies for prospects Kyle Drabek, Travis d’Arnaud and Michael Taylor, all of whom had big upside. None ever lived up to expectations at the major league level.

It was bittersweet for Jays fans to hear of Halladay’s perfect game for the Phillies on May 29, 2010, or to watch him throw a no hitter on October 6, 2010 in his first ever postseason appearance, which he'd been waiting for his whole career. It was kind of like watching an ex-boyfriend move on and find the life he'd always wanted with another woman. I found myself cheering for the Phillies that postseason (in yet another year when the Jays weren’t there), only so that Doc could finally get his championship ring. It was not to be. The Phillies lost the 2010 NLCS in 6 games to the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

2010 also saw Halladay win his second career Cy Young award, this one for the National League. He led the league that year in wins (21), complete games (9), shutouts (4), innings pitched (250.2), batters faced (993), walks per 9 innings (1.1) and strikeout to walk ratio (7.30) while posting a very fine era of 2.44.

2011 saw Halladay start his second All Star game on July 12, 2011 for the National League, finish second in Cy Young voting to Clayton Kershaw and once again reach MLB’s postseason with the Phillies. The team however didn’t go as deep in to the postseason as they did in 2010, losing the Division Series in 5 games to the eventual World Series champion St Louis Cardinals. Halladay started the deciding game 5 for Philadelphia vs his friend and former Blue Jays teammate Chris Carpenter for the Cards. Doc pitched a high quality game, going 8 innings and only giving up one run on six hits but unfortunately for the Phillies, Carpenter was that much better, pitching a complete game shutout.

In 2012-2013, things went downhill for both Halladay and the Phillies. The team hasn’t been back to the postseason since 2011 and as for Doc, it appeared that his age (35 in 2012), all the innings pitched (2,531 prior to 2012) as well as the well documented hard work that he put in between starts had finally caught up to him. He went 11-8 with a 4.49 era in 2012 and 4-5 with a 6.82 era in 2013 with disabled list stints in both years due to shoulder trouble. On December 9, 2013, Halladay signed a one-day contract with Toronto in order to retire as a Blue Jay. He'd come full circle.

Halladay will be eligible for MLB’s Hall of Fame in 2019. For me, looking at his career statistics it is a matter of when, not if he is inducted. 203-105 win/loss record, 3.38 era, 67 complete games, 20 shutouts, 2,749.1 innings pitched, and maybe most impressive, career win/loss percentage of .659, the eighth highest in MLB history.

In an interview on August 14, 2016 with Mark Zwolinski of the Toronto Star, Halladay said he would enter the Hall of Fame as a Blue Jay if he is inducted. I very much look forward to seeing his time come. It is tragic that he won’t be present to accept the honor due to his untimely death on November 7, 2017 at age 40, in a plane he was piloting. He was flying solo.

Karen Soutar is a lifelong resident of Toronto, Canada, baseball aficionado and die hard Toronto Blue Jays fan. Twitter: @KarenSoutar1


DC United: Washington Nationals Baseball and the Meaning of Bryce Harper

By Sydnee Williams

Meandering through the bustling streets of Washington DC, en route to a baseball game, there’s many differences in the people but also a common thread. Across different ethnicities and languages, Washington Nationals #34 connects the people of DC.


Everywhere you turn there’s a Bryce Harper graphic tee or signed jersey. From kids who’ve been dragged to a game by their fanatic parents, to the 10-year season ticket holder, Harper resonates. Knowing that most people attend Nationals games for the young phenom and nothing more, how would a Harper departure affect fan connection of the team as a whole?


When most people think about the Nationals, the first name that comes to mind is Bryce Harper. These are the results of a twitter poll I conducted:

 

Harper Poll


The feisty slugger has surpassed Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman as the face of baseball in DC. Besides being a premier player and a rare athletic specimen, people in DC need a player to cling to. That’s clearly Bryce Harper.


Prosperity lacks in DC sports. There are expectations, but realistically there's a ceiling. A great regular season with a lackluster playoff appearance is the bar. That being said, players themselves have become the focal point. For the Washington Nationals, a relatively young franchise of only recent success, the players are a huge part of how the fan base identifies.


Making his major league debut in 2012, Harper had instant impact. Not only did more hype surround the young Nationals and this energetic, hair-flinging, helmet-dropping stud of an athlete, but attendance numbers shot up.


In every season since 2011, the annual attendance hovered around 22,000. One year later, and every year after, 9,000 more fans have popped up. A 2016 study conducted to see how much fans spend at a game revealed that two people at Nationals Park spend approximately $85.90. Due to the Harper pandemonium, the team has made an additional $386,500.00 per year and $1,932,750.00 over the past 5 seasons (from the extra 9,000 people accounted for). That data is not including merchandise sales – just parking, tickets, and food/beverage – which brings in a surplus every single game. Harper’s jersey is a top seller in all of baseball. Speaking monetarily, Harper is a powerhouse for sales. (2016 study: http://fortune.com/2016/04/03/mlb-ballparks-tickets/ )


Besides contributing to team and owners’ wealth, Bryce has been meaningful to locals hungry for baseball. From his signature opening day home runs to the big post-season hits, he’s given the Nationals spark and spunk and, ultimately, their “Natitude” identity. His presence creates a shift, from the way the lineup is approached to how opposing pitchers handle him. He's a player that invokes fear in opponents. His STATS constant reminder that if you give an inch, he’ll take you out of the ballpark.

There's also that fire he plays with, and the crowd feeds off of it with every foul ball he sends crashing into the net. Record setting blasts are marked with a red chair in the 3rd deck. There's also frequent run-ins with umpires. Fans connect with him as the heartbeat of that team.


A Year of Importance


The melting pot we call the nations capital is slowly shifting into a baseball town. Though football is still the main focus - despite continuous disappointments - baseball is emerging from the shadows. Harper can be instrumental in the transition, but time could be running out.


The upcoming 2018 season is one I’d mark as the most important for this franchise. Next offseason’s free agents are creating panic throughout the industry. Murphy and Harper are a couple of big names that could be on their way out. It’s feasible to expect a Murphy return but Harper, not so much. He will be a free-agent, and discussions about that moment have been around for years. The possible asking price that’s been suggested ($300-500M) is way out of range for the Nationals. It would take a literal miracle to retain him. Many Nats fans might be ignoring that reality.


Baseball fans in DC have waited patiently for baseball success. A Harper departure would be devastating, creating a huge void. He's much more than a superstar and it would be naïve to think that if he walks, everyone will stay. The Nationals have to know a lot of empty seats would be the likely result.


It's painful to think of how different things will be without #34, but business is business. The rumors surrounding him going to the Cubs or Yankees may be true, so in preparation for his inevitable Nationals departure, this should be a year of appreciation and admiration. He’s given this city grit, heart, and soul, and we can’t take that for granted.


No one knows what will happen. But one of the biggest breakups in DC sports could be just up ahead.

 

 

 


The Meaning of a Baseball Name

By Katelyn Burns

Names can carry with them many connotations and emotions. Names can make you proud or fill your heart with memories of loved ones. Names can also bring pain, a reminder of an abusive parent, for example.  In western society, we’re typically given three names at birth and for the vast majority of people, we’ll keep the first two names for life. But for transgender people, our relationship to our birth names are complicated and serve as reminders of difficult times. For myself, the middle name given to me at birth, Burns, has one simple association. Baseball.

 

You could say that baseball runs in my blood. I never met the man but my great grandfather’s life has cast a long shadow over my whole life. George “Tioga” Burns was a right-handed line drive hitter and major league first baseman who had stints with the Tigers, Indians, Red Sox, Yankees, and Athletics, a World Series champion twice over, and 1926 AL MVP (when he hit a then league record 64 doubles). Probably the highlight of his career was driving in the only run in a 1-0 game six win in the 1920 World Series for the Cleveland Indians. I knew all his accomplishments as a player, but to me he was just “Poppop”, my grandmother’s father, who passed away a few years before I was born. Despite his early death, I’ve somehow developed a deep spiritual connection of sorts with my middle namesake that’s withstood continuous change in my own life.

 

Growing up, I loved baseball more than anything else on the planet, and I tore up tee ball in my small town league in rural New England. I wasn’t blessed with tremendous athleticism, but instead substituted a love of sport and hard work to produce results on the field. Other kids might have modelled themselves after their favorite players, in my neck of the woods that usually meant a Yankee or a Red Sox player, but for me, I often pictured myself back in the 1920’s playing with the giants of the game like my “Poppop” did.

 

I remember sitting with my grandmother, “Mima”, completely enraptured with her stories about sitting on Babe Ruth’s lap as a child. She used to tell me that her dad was Lou Gehrig’s backup for about a half season in the midst of his 2,130 consecutive games played streak. That must have been rough. He once completed an unassisted triple play as a first baseman, though I have trouble imagining how he managed to pull that off. My mom tells me that he always said that in the moment he had a sense of history, so he “just ran like hell.”

 

But baseball wasn’t the only thing going on with me as a child. I also knew early on that there was something deeply wrong with my birth assigned gender. It’s hard to describe how I knew from such a young age, but I did. I’d often find myself up late at night, sobbing to my Catholic god to take the pain away and make me wake up the next day as the girl I should have been born as. Playing out on whatever field or court I found myself on as a child was truly one of the only places I often found refuge from my crushing gender dysphoria.

 

On the baseball field, there weren’t boys and girls, there were just athletes. At its core, baseball is about the pitcher, the batter, and the ball. Baseballs have no gender.

 

Despite having never met Poppop, I often imagined that he checked in on me from time to time. I wonder what he would have thought of my scoop or my stretch playing first. In the depths of my anxiety over my gender exploration being discovered, I wonder if he was watching the first time I slipped on that forbidden dress. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just enjoy my simple boy’s life of little league baseball. And then puberty struck.

 

Wearing dresses is not something that normal little boys, good boys, were supposed to do. I have no illusions what a man who was born in 1893 would have probably thought over his great grandson secretly wearing girls clothes when no one else around. Even as a child the guilt ate at me. Sometimes I felt like I was betraying the man I was named after. I used to daydream of changing my last name to Burns and disappearing into some far off life as the girl I knew myself to be in a place where they’d never heard of baseball before.

 

Once my body began to change, it was like my innocence was lost. I endured the double trauma of losing my grandmother, Poppop’s daughter, at age twelve, the same year my puberty began in earnest. The full reality that my body would grow into that of a man’s was a bitter pill to swallow, and I developed a certain gloominess. Having lost my most direct family connection with my family’s greatest athlete, not even baseball, once my great refuge from my gender rift, could soothe over the betrayal that came with my puberty. I drifted away from the game, quitting the sport entirely rather than try out for the local Babe Ruth team.

 

****

 

Twenty years later, and once again names were on my mind. I was finally ready to take the leap into the womanhood I always dreamed of.  Would I go with my childhood dream and replace my birth surname with Poppop’s? The answer it turns out, was… sort of.

 

With two children of my own now, breaking that family connection is something I could never dream of. I desired a more traditionally feminine middle name, so it was finally time for Burns to go. My parents gave me a new middle name with its own family connection, but what of Poppop’s surname? As you can see from my byline, my choice of pen name was an easy one.

 

Every time I publish something now, I honor both the legacy and that fleeting connection I felt as a terrified little girl to a family legend. Poppop, learning about your life got me through so many difficult times in my life. I hope you’re proud of me when you look down on me now, I’m running like hell. 

 

Katelyn Burns has written for the Washington Post, Vice and Playboy, among others. Follow her on Twitter @Transcribe.

 

 


The Presence of Muslims in Baseball Growing, Still A Ways to Go

By Rimsha Ganatra

 

I consider October 8th, 2016 a personal holiday. 

That's the day the Chicago Cubs Twitter shared my tweet with me and my nephew excitedly celebrating Game 2 of the NLDS against the San Francisco Giants. You’re probably wondering why I’m touting such an inconsequential event. Baseball teams retweet fan pictures all the time, especially during the playoffs when they’re working to to get as many people excited about the game as possible. But how many times do you see a sports team, MLB or otherwise, sharing a picture of a fully veiled Muslim woman to over a million followers? Not often. 

To be fair, there probably aren’t that many niqabi’s avidly watching and posting about baseball, but who’s to blame for that? And does that blame also extend to the lack of all women of color fans, Muslim or not, in the MLB? It is a recurring theme within media and public consumption today to stress the importance of representation, because it's important. Fans like to see themselves in the players. Their race or religion being mentioned gives you a sense of attachment to a player. This can be seen in basketball with Kareem Abdul Jabbar, or brothers Hamza and Hussain Abdullah within the NFL. Even currently, the Toronto Maple Leafs have Nazem Kadri, a Canadian Muslim as their center. Baseball has Sam Khalifa, who played shortstop and second base for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1980s. Not to undermine his career at all, since making it to the majors is an incredible feat within itself, but his presence did not lead to an influx of Muslim players within the league. Why is that? Because baseball is still seen as a “white man’s” sport.


According to ESPN, the average age of baseball fans is currently at 56 years old, and I’m sure no one thinks this age distribution is swayed by Muslim women. This is not to say that it’s the game of baseball itself that’s the reason there a lack of Muslim women and women of color fans in general. But it’s been difficult to break the mold in people's minds of the quintessential baseball fan being anyone but an older white American man.

You can use cricket as a comparison. Diehard fans will argue the difference between cricket and baseball until the end of time, but when it comes down to it, both games have bases, fielding, runs, and batters, whose efforts are in order to not get out. The games are similar enough to assume that they could have a similar fan base, but cricket fans represent different countries and racial groups within a single country as well. This means the potential for baseball is definitely there, but there needs to be a few adjustments. 

One, we need to get rid of this idea that to be a sports fan, you need to know the entire history of the sport. I didn’t really get into baseball until my sophomore year of undergrad and I consistently had to deal with people quizzing me about my favorite players from the years 2000-2010. This is likely more commonly done to women, and can prevent them from pursuing interest in a sport. Like bro, I didn’t care then, doesn’t mean I can’t care now And two, we need to see more coverage of the sport by Muslim women so we know that we’re not alone as fans. Do you know how excited I was to see Cubs Den announce Husnaa V’hora, a hijabi, as a new contributor? Before that the only current connection I could find with baseball and Muslim women was Aaliyah Fowler, wife of former Cub and the first player to lead off a winner-take-all World Series game with a home run, Dexter Fowler. Aaliyah Fowler isn’t even Muslim, she’s just from Iran, a majority Muslim country. That’s how far I had to stretch. Finally, add a pitch clock- Ha I’m kidding about this one, please MLB you don’t really need this, just give us cool in game entertainment like how the NBA has Bhangra Empire perform. 

However, throughout this all this critique, the MLB is making strides to widen its fan base and provide more opportunities for diversity in the sport. This can be seen in the front office level, with Farhan Zaidi being the General Manager of the Dodgers, and Shiraz Rehman, assistant GM of the Cubs. The MLB also created the Diversity Fellowship program in hopes to get new and different talent to the game of baseball on an operational level, and hopefully that momentum with translate to players and fans as well.

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Rimsha Ganatra is a recent graduate of Northwestern University with a BA in history and English. She grew up with Cubs games playing in the background at home, but has recently renewed her passion for the game which can be seen by her incoherent tweets of games from her personal handle @rimshutup. Besides, academic papers she has never written for any publication and hopes you’ll go easy on her in the comments.


They've Got Glove: Netflix-- 'Hey Arnold' Episode 'The Vacant Lot'

By Cara Cooper

The titular character on Nickelodeon’s classic cartoon “Hey Arnold” may have had a football shaped head, but Arnold and all of his fourth grade buddies were baseball junkies through and through.


"The Vacant Lot” was the seventh episode of season one, which premiered in 1996. Even though it was for kids, the episode is a great way to relive childhood days of playing baseball wherever there was enough space to swing a bat.


The episode starts with Arnold and his friends struggling to find a place to play baseball, with no real diamonds in the city where they live. After busting out too many car windshields and hitting too many traffic lights, the players all feel like their baseball efforts are futile. That’s until Arnold and his best friend Gerald run across a vacant lot between two buildings. Even though the lot is filled with trash, like any good baseball architect, Arnold sees the locations' potential.


Just a few days later, the once burying ground for old appliances is now a beautiful diamond complete with hubcaps as bases, and an old barrel as the pitcher’s mound. It’s a fourth grader’s field of dreams in the middle of downtown.


But, like anything else in the world, their dreamland is ruined when the adults decide to take over the newly renovated space. No worries though, Arnold and his band of brothers (plus Helga in all her unibrow awesomeness) get the last laugh, and eventually everyone sees the lot for the diamond it deserves to be.


Anyone looking for some great nostalgia can’t go wrong watching this classic cartoon episode. It’s proof that baseball may be a kid’s game, but players young and old can get caught up anytime a game is going on.


Episodes of Hey Arnold can be watched on Nickelodeon’s website: www.nick.com/hey-arnold/episodes/

Cara Cooper is a journalist from Virginia. You can follow her on Twitter @caramariecooper