Moniker Madness

It’s that time of year minor league baseball fans. It’s time for Moniker Madness aka a yearly competition Minor League Baseball holds to recognize players with unique names. The competition was started in 2007 and voting for the 2014 competition will wrap up on Thursday. (To see this year’s list of players and vote for your favorites, click here.) I’ve had the privilege of working with some players with unique names. I present to you the names and memories of perhaps some of the most uniquely named players I have worked with over the past four years.

1. Jason Jester- I met Jason during my very first season as a sports reporter. He was on the baseball team at Tyler Junior College and I was on the college newspaper staff. I learned a lot during that season working with the coaches and players to write stories about the team. It was cool seeing him pitch in a national championship game at TJC and then seeing him go on to pitch at Texas A&M and set records as their closer. But for me, the best memory I have is interviewing Jason after he was drafted by the San Diego Padres. He’s now pitching in Low-A ball with the Fort Wayne Tincaps and I wish him all the best in the future.

2. Jurickson Profar- During the 2012 season, I was an intern with the Frisco RoughRiders, the Texas Rangers Double-A team which is where I worked with Jurickson Profar. I have quite a few funny stories about him but my favorite one involves the RoughRiders charity golf tournament. I was in charge of getting a picture of every golf group with sponsor signs as they pass through the first hole. Profar’s group was the last one to come through. I got the photo and started to head back to the golf clubhouse. Profar stopped me and asked if I would putt for him on the green since it was their last hole. I said alright not realizing they only had right-handed clubs and I’m left-handed. It did not go too well but it eventually made it to the final destination although I’m sure Tiger Woods would not be proud of how far I went over par on that hole. We got into the golf cart to head back to the clubhouse and Profar wanted to drive. Never have I been so scared in my life. We went down a hill with his foot all the way on the gas pedal. I thought we were going to flip the cart and then the thought ran through my mind that what would we say to Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan if he had gotten hurt? Luckily, we made it back safe and sound to finish the tournament without a hitch.

3. Mike Olt- Working for the RoughRiders is also where I met Mike Olt who is now playing in the Chicago Cubs organization. The very first time I met him was also one of my favorite memories from the season. The graphic designer Alex and I set up a photo shoot with Mike where we set his bat on fire. We were originally going to do the shoot outside but it was extremely windy and we didn’t want to set the stadium on fire so we ended up doing it in the player’s tunnel. Mike brought an old batting practice bat and we put layers of rubber cement on it before lighting it up. We asked him to swing the bat slowly so he wouldn’t toss little bits of fire all over the tunnel. It resulted in some awesome pictures. The operations guys had fun with it too tossing a flaming baseball back and forth.

4. Narciso Crook- Due to my school schedule and graduation ceremonies, I wasn’t able to get on with a team for the 2013 season so I worked for our local newspaper and covered the National Junior College Athletic Association Division III Baseball World Series tournament which is where I met Narciso. He was playing for Gloucester County Community College and was an absolute beast for them hitting a few homers and finishing one game with a hit short of the cycle. Gloucester won the national title and Crook was named the MVP. I interviewed him after the game and he couldn’t have been more humble about his contributions to the team during the tournament. The Cincinnati Reds sure took notice and drafted him that season. He currently plays for the AZL Reds.

5. Brooks Pounders- This season I am interning with the Idaho Falls Chukars. Brooks Pounders was sent to us on a rehab assignment and he was super funny. I get headshots of all of the new guys for the video boards. We were in the dugout and I took the first shot which he wasn’t happy with so we took a second headshot. He didn’t like the second one so we kept going and it turned into an impromptu photo shoot. He joked that he should start modling but finally after about 10 shots, we got the right one for the video boards. Of course, he has been called back up to the Wilmington Blue Rocks and is currently in first place for MiLB’s 2014 Moniker Madness tournament so go vote!

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Living The Olympic Dream

While in Utah, I continued my sports adventures by visiting Olympic Park in Park City which is about 30 minutes from Salt Lake City. Olympic Park was one of the host venues during the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. The facility hosted the downhill skiing, bobsled, luge, skeleton, and aerial skiing events. I wasn’t sure what to expect from exploring this place since venues in other host cities such as Beijing and Athens have fallen into disrepair. That was definitely not the case with Olympic Park which is thriving and still hosts multiple competitions at their facilities.

This friendly skier greets you as you turn onto Olympic Parkway.

This friendly skier greets you as you turn onto Olympic Parkway.

It was cool to see the ski jumps while driving up the mountain.

It was cool to see the ski jumps while driving up the mountain.

I started my exploration at the aerials pool. On the side of the pool was a monumental 70 foot rock wall that hung out over the pool which had just hosted a national rock climbing competition the week before. (Note: It will be gone as of August 24th for public climbing.)

The imposing monolith.

The imposing monolith.

Olympians use the aerials pool to train new tricks for sports such as half-pipe snowboarding, freestyle skiing, etc. Every Saturday and Sunday during the summer, some of these Olympians perform with the Flying Aces team in a half-hour show that displays their unique skill sets. One such Olympian was Heather McPhie who has competed in women’s moguls skiing in Vancouver and Sochi. It was amazing to see these guys and gals twist and turn so effortlessly through the air including several jumps off an 82 degree curved ramp which launched him into the air in time for him to complete three and a half twists.

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But perhaps the most impressive part of the show was whenever all of them did their jumps at the same time in a different part of the pool which required expert precision on where they were going to land in the pool so none of them would get hurt. It was made even more difficult by the bubbles that are blown to the surface in the water to soften the landing for each of them.

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Near the aerials pool is a ski museum as well as a museum dedicated to the 2002 Olympics. The ski museum was interesting in explaining how skiing began in Utah and how it has grown. At the end of the ski museum was a hometown heroes case that had different things from local athletes that have competed in the games like skier Ted Ligety.

Ligety's athlete badge from the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

Ligety’s athlete badge from the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

Ligety's medal from Sochi.

His medal from Sochi.

The 2002 Olympics museum had some cool things like puppets from the opening ceremonies…..

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and Bode Miller’s downhill ski suit from the Salt Lake Olympics.

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With the museums checked off the list, I checked out the downhill ski jumps. They didn’t look too intimidating from the bottom.

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The ski jumps with ropes courses and ziplines built on either side of them.

 

Then you get to the top and realize not only that you’re up way higher than you thought but that it’s a blind landing. The skiers step onto the ledge that it like two feet wide to put on their skis. I was told they have skiers as young as 12 jump off these. It definitely gives me more respect for those guys because it takes nerves of steel.

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Olympic Park offered lots of things to do from taking beginning freestyle skiing lessons to alpine coasters and ziplines to ropes courses but there was one activity that I have been wanting to try for awhile. I was introduced to the sport of bobsledding through a fun Disney movie called Cool Runnings. (Side note: I was told the Jamaican bobsled team lives in Wyoming and trains at Olympic Park!) Then my interest was reignited because of Johnny Quinn mainly because we went to the same college and he was from the same part of Texas as me. So when I saw that you could in fact ride in a bobsled, I was all for it. The track was the same one from the 2002 Olympics and was host to 5 World Cup events this last year including bobsled, luge, and skeleton competitions.

The starting line for the bobsled track.

The starting line for the bobsled track.

Looking out at the track winding down the mountain.

Looking out at the track winding down the mountain.

The safety orientation was definitely unnerving. You have to keep your back and neck straight while leaning slightly forward with your legs spread out to the sides. If you leaned too far forward, your head would hit the person in front of you or the pilot. If you leaned too far back, you would get sucked to the back of the sled. The summer sled that we rode in was a bit different than the one used in the winter. It has wheels instead of blades and there are seat belts and a roll cage. They told us that we would reach speeds of 65 mph and hit 4Gs while the winter bobsled can reach 85 mph an 5Gs. Piece of cake right? I was the first ride of the day and a bit nervous but my driver was awesome. We got the running start which was cool.

Riding in the summer bobsled.

Riding in the summer bobsled.

The ride was intense but a lot of fun. I was able to reach the optimal position by curve 2 of the 15-curve track. You could definitely tell when you the Gs hit you. It feels like you’re being pressured into the seat with so much weight that at times it can be hard to breathe. It’s a rough, shaky ride, which might be why you have to sign waivers first. It’s cool to have the same vantage point down the track and to see the boards, cameras, and times during the ride. Since there were only two of us, our times was pretty slow but I thought it was pretty good for my first run.

Quite possibly the only time I will be in first place at an Olympic venue.

Quite possibly the only time I will be in first place at an Olympic venue.

I talked to my driver afterwards and asked how he got into bobsledding. Surprisingly, he did the same ride I did 8 years prior and loved it so much that he moved from Boston to Park City just to work on the track. Everyone that works on the track has the opportunity to take the training and become a driver so that’s what he did. So if any of you guys are interested, you could do the same thing. However, you might have a headache and/or backache most of the time. These guys take a beating as drivers, especially with inexperienced tourists, but mainly because they make 15 to 35 runs a day. I have to think that would rival even the Olympians themselves. With the bobsled under my belt, I called it a day. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend checking out Olympic Park. They are a non-profit that takes care of these awesome facilities and continue to train the Olympians of tomorrow. Who knows, it might be one of you someday.

 

 

 

Visiting The Owlz Nest

With the Chukars on the road for the past five days or so, I went down to Utah to meet my family and spend some time with them for the first time since April. I suggested we see an Orem Owlz game since we were in the area and they play in the same league as Idaho Falls so off we went towards Brent Brown Ballpark. You might scoff at the fact that the Owlz don’t have their own facility but Brent Brown Ballpark is a gorgeous facility located on the campus of Utah Valley University. I definitely recommend checking it out because you won’t be disappointed. (And you know you work in minor league baseball when you are jealous of another team’s mower.) Here’s a quick look at the field.

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The concourse is lined with banners of former Owlz players that have advanced in the Angels system and a board that showed former Owlz who are now in the big leagues.

Owlz Concourse

Several familiar names popped up like Darren O’Day, Nick Adenhart, Mark Trumbo, and Tyler Skaggs.

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Some of the promotions were fun to watch. There was the Dice Of Doom where a poor guy was covered in silly string, red light/green light running towards the mascots, and my personal favorite: the Chicken Dance-Off. All in all, it was a fun night but don’t take my word for it. Check out some action shots from the game.

Luke Moran picked up the win for Billings.

Luke Moran picked up the win for Billings.

Raul Linares watches a pop fly to shallow center.

Raul Linares watches a pop fly to shallow center.

Taylor Sparks fires over to first.

Taylor Sparks fires over to first.

Alex Klonowski was tagged with the loss.

Alex Klonowski was tagged with the loss.

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Extra Innings Madness

The Idaho Falls Chukars have had their fair share of extra innings games this season. During the homestand from August 4th to August 10th, three of their seven games went to extras. Here’s a quick breakdown of those games complete with links to the box scores:

June 20th against the Grand Junction Rockies, the Chukars lost 7-6 after 10 innings. Box score

July 29th against the Ogden Raptors, the Chukars won 9-8 after 16 innings. Box score

August 4th against the Helena Brewers, the Chukars won 8-7 after 10 innings. Box score

August 6th against the Helena Brewers, the Chukars won 7-6 after eight innings in the second game of a doubleheader. Box score

August 10th against the Missoula Osprey, the Chukars lost 7-6 after 11 innings. Box score

 

For comparison, here’s a list of the extra inning games for the rest of the teams in the Pioneer League. As of August 15, 2014, the Missoula Osprey are the only team in the league that have not had a game go past regulation aka free baseball. The team with the best record in these situations is the Billings Mustangs who have a 3-0 record while the Helena Brewers have the worst record at 0-5.

South Division:

Grand Junction Rockies

June 20th against the Idaho Falls Chukars, the Rockies won 7-6 after 10 innings.

June 25th against the Ogden Raptors, the Rockies won 5-4 after 13 innings.

 

Ogden Raptors

June 25th against the Grand Junction Rockies, the Raptors lost 5-4 after 13 innings.

July 29th against the Idaho Falls Chukars, the Raptors lost 9-8 after 16 innings.

July 31st against the Orem Owlz, the Raptors won 6-5 after 10 innings.

August 12th against the Missoula Osprey, the Raptors lost 11-10 after 10 innings.

 

Orem Owlz

July 16th against the Helena Brewers, the Owlz won 10-7 after 10 innings.

July 31st against the Ogden Raptors, the Owlz lost 6-5 after 10 innings.

August 9th against the Billings Mustangs, the Owlz lost 4-3 after 10 innings.

 

North Division:

Billings Mustangs

July 6th against the Helena Brewers, the Mustangs won 12-11 after 12 innings.

August 1st against the Great Falls Voyagers, the Mustangs won 3-1 after 17 innings.

August 9th against the Orem Owlz, the Mustangs won 4-3 after 10 innings.

 

Great Falls Voyagers

June 25th against the Helena Brewers, the Voyagers won 3-2 in 10 innings.

August 1st against the Billings Mustangs, the Voyagers lost 3-1 in 17 innings.

 

Helena Brewers

June 25th against the Great Falls Voyagers, the Brewers lost 3-2 in 10 innings.

July 6th against the Billings Mustangs, the Brewers lost 12-11 in 12 innings.

July 16th against the Orem Owlz, the Brewers lost 10-7 in 10 innings.

August 4th against the Idaho Falls Chukars, the Brewers lost 8-7 in 10 innings.

August 6th against the Idaho Falls Chukars, the Brewers lost 7-6 in 8 innings in the second game of a doubleheader.

 

Missoula Osprey

The Missoula Osprey is the only team in the league to have not played an extra inning game so far in the 2014 season. (As of August 15, 2014)

A Day In The Life Of Chukars Coaches

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Jecksson Flores stands on first base and talks to bench coach Julio Bruno. (Jarah Wright)

While it might appear that coaches and players only show up to Melaleuca Field for practices and games, a lot of work goes on behind-the-scenes that fans don’t get to see.

Several coaches have different morning routines including workouts and Starbucks runs but they all end up at the ballpark around noon. Manager Omar Ramirez starts the day getting things in order for the players.

“I get my daily schedule ready. I post what we’re going to do whether it’s early work, hitting, or defense and then whenever they get here, they see it and know where to go,” Ramirez said. “Then I make the lineup. I check with the trainer (Robbie Oates) to see if anybody from the day before had said or complained about pain or soreness. If he says everything is okay, I have an idea because we have different lineups for left-handed and right-handed pitchers.”

Manager Omar Ramirez and rehabber Parker Morin. (Jarah Wright)

Manager Omar Ramirez and rehabber Parker Morin. (Jarah Wright)

For pitching coach Mark Davis, he evaluates what the pitchers will be doing.

“I look at who is pitching and who has sides. Then I make availability cards for the game,” Davis said. “Then I might call our coordinator to talk about what’s going on. I post what the pitchers are doing and try to have everything set up for the guys.”

The players get to the field and one of the first things they do is go through hitting maintenance with hitting coach Damon Hollins and hitting instructor Willie Aikens.

“Most of the time he (Damon) helps with hitting on the field and I have a couple of players in the cage and we just do maintenance: hitting with them, front toss, hit off the tee, side flips, and other drills like that,” Aikens said.

While position players work in the cage, pitchers also go through drills in the home bullpen.

“Starters come and throw sides. I pick and choose when our relievers can throw but not as much because they might have to pitch later on in that night’s game,” Davis said. “I also do a lot of dry work without a baseball with sticks and towels so we can get guys on the mound and get them more repeatable.”

After running through their drills, the players have some time to rest before batting practice.

“We have a short meeting before the players stretch and we go over what happened the night before during the game either going over things with guys or complimenting them telling them they had a good game and to keep going and playing hard,” Aikens said. “Then we start batting practice.”

Pitching coach Mark Davis goes out to have a quick chat with Alec Mills and Kyle Pollock. (Jarah Wright)

Pitching coach Mark Davis goes out to have a quick chat with Alec Mills and Kyle Pollock. (Jarah Wright)

Batting practice can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour before the team heads back to the clubhouse to eat before the game starts. During the game, each coach looks for things that players do well or can work on. For Davis, it’s watching the direction of the pitcher’s heads.

“Most of what we try to get accomplished is the direction of their delivery and if they’re online to the plate. We like balance and separation which is getting the ball out of the glove on time before they go to home plate so the ball is up and they can throw downhill,” Davis said. “A lot of what I’m looking for is where their head is because if it tilts, it’s because they are late with separation. You see them across their body and they’re not online because their head isn’t online so I’m looking for the repeatability of their delivery.”

Hitting instructor Willie Aikens, left, and hitting coach Damon Hollins, right, watch the action on the field. (Jarah Wright)

Hitting instructor Willie Aikens, left, and hitting coach Damon Hollins, right, watch the action on the field. (Jarah Wright)

For Aikens, it’s the direction of the bat through a player’s swing.

“As a coach, we try to help them get to the strike zone as quick as possible because we preach hitting the fastball. In order to have success in the game of baseball, you have to hit the fastball,” Aikens said. “For hitting instructors, we see if the player has an uppercut in his swing, if he’s dipping, if he’s taking his eye off of the ball. We try to tell them to stay on the ball, have quick hands and we tell them to stay on top of the ball. If you hit under it, unless you have the power to hit it out of the park, it will be a fly ball and your success rate will drop lower than hitting on top of the ball.”

Ramirez said they don’t normally have coaches meetings but do go to each other whenever they have questions about the players. Aikens said the coaching staff have worked together before in the past and having good relationships between so many coaches can only strengthen the players.

“Ten eyes are better than two or four eyes every time. I might see something Damon doesn’t see. Julio might see something I don’t see. Mark might see something Omar doesn’t see,” Aikens said. “Anytime you have a handful of coaches like we have it’s always an advantage for the players.”

Battle Of The Ages

During a game a few weeks ago, one of our ushers puzzled aloud to me that he was curious who the youngest team in the Pioneer League was. This got me thinking and now I present to you my findings. I wrote down all the players active on the rosters for the eight teams in the Pioneer League. From there, I looked up every player on Baseball-Reference.com and recorded what their age was. I then added all of these ages together down to the thousandth decimal place and divided that number by the amount of players. This gave me the average age of every team. Here’s a quick look:

SOUTH DIVISION

Idaho Falls Chukars:

Average Team Age: 21.248 years old

Oldest Player: Shane Halley at 24.307 years old

Youngest Player: Samir Duenez at 18.051 years old

Grand Junction Rockies

Average Team Age: 22.302 years old

Oldest Player: Rafael Betancourt at 39.094 years old

Youngest Player: Kevin Padlo at 18.017 years old

Orem Owlz

Average Team Age: 21.281 years old

Oldest Player: Raul Linares at 23.301

Youngest Player: Natanael Delgado at 18.282 years old

Ogden Raptors

Average Team Age: 21.276 years old

Oldest Player: Joseph Meggs at 24.093 years old

Youngest Player: Julian Leon at 18.189 years old

 

NORTH DIVISION

Missoula Osprey

Average Team Age: 20.674 years old

Oldest Player: Derek Cape at 24.071 years old

Youngest Player: Sergio Alcantara at 18.024 years old

Great Falls Voyagers

Average Team Age: 22.089 years old

Oldest Player: Anthony Santiago at 24.315 years old

Youngest Player: Matt Ball at 19.131 years old

Helena Brewers

Average Team Age: 21.382 years old

Oldest Player: Jack Cleary at 24.044 years old

Youngest Player: Eric Williams at 19.100 years old

Billings Mustangs

Average Team Age: 21.234 years old

Oldest Player: Jordan Remer at 24.137 years old

Youngest Player: Shedric Long at 18.346 years old