I’m Overwhelmed….

Baseball Betsy Speaks!

Baseball Betsy Speaks!

It’s been a crazy couple of days. Monday night was the official presentation of the Blue Jays plan to stay in Dunedin. (You can read my post about that HERE.)

I’m not one to make public speeches and I’m terrified about speaking in public, but Monday night, I could not keep silent. I spoke up and explained why keeping the Blue Jays in Dunedin is so important to me. (If you want to see my speak, you can click HERE.)

I didn’t do anything except say what was in my heart…the applause startled me. I’ve never gotten applause before. What has happened since has been amazing. Jays President Mark Shapiro thanked me personally, members of City Council…random people I didn’t know before…this morning I even got a text message from another person that I never expected, just to say thank you.

I’m astounded and thankful. 

While I usually write about the Phillies, it IS important to note that Mark Shapiro noted the Jays special relationship with the Phillies in Clearwater as part of what makes Dunedin special. So this isn’t just a “Jays” issue, it’s a spring training and Florida State League issue.

So as a fan of baseball in Pinellas County, let me just say this…

GO JAYS!

Now, the hard work begins.

The Plan is Out! Blue Jays Plan on Staying in Dunedin! Community Involved in Plans for New Facilities and Renovations

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If you have read my blog for a while, you’ll know I was raised a Phillies fan. I can’t hide that…but it’s because of the Phillies that I found my forever home and also became a Blue Jays fan. How you ask? Before we lived here, we came down for years for Phillies spring training. We’d stay for a week or so in a hotel or rent a house for a month.

One year, the Phillies played the Blue Jays in Dunedin. We had never been there and used the GPS in my phone (this was somewhere around 2008 and the GPS in my Samsung Black Jack phone was not good) and it sent us to the practice complex on the north side of town. We looked up the stadium address and followed the GPS to downtown where we found parking and walked the five blocks down Douglas Ave to the stadium.

The town was beautiful. It’s quaint, a glimpse back in time. Little shops, then cute houses, then a place where houses were being developed, then a bar and then the stadium. The new houses were perfect, so perfect that we thought that it was a Disney-like display, so perfect no one could live there…but you could! Then we would only be a few blocks from a baseball stadium! It was that baseball game that changed our lives…while it would take a few years, we eventually built our home in Dunedin and we plan to live here the rest of our lives.

Soon after moving here, I was asked to become a member of the Dunedin Stadium Advisory Committee. I accepted and was officially appointed to the committee by the Mayor.

It’s been a nervous time. Two years ago, there was speculation that the Jays were going to move to West Palm Beach. It would devastate the local economy. I won’t go into the numbers deeply but spring training brings over 80 MILLION DOLLARS A YEAR into Pinellas County. That’s hotels, rentals, food, everything. Granted, it’s not just the Blue Jays as the Phillies are here as well as the Yankees just across the causeway. It is attractive that there are three teams within an easy 15-20 minute drive. Bradenton, Sarasota and Lakeland are just an hour away and Disney and the new Braves Complex in Kissimmee, only 90 minutes away. That many family activities makes it a vacation destination where everyone in the family can find something to love.

There’s been a legal confidentially agreement in order since they started negotiations so there was nothing anyone outside the inner circle knew for sure (not even the stadium committee was in the circle). Last night was the first time that the public was given a look at what could be in the works. If you are interested in the nearly THREE HOUR presentation you can see it on the Dunedin City Government Website HERE.

The small city council room was packed. There was also seating provided outside on the patio with a TV for those who could not get in to monitor the situation.

The packed City Council Chamber at City Hall

The packed City Council Chamber at City Hall

The meeting began with the Director of Parks and Recreation going over the selection of the location/plan. One was to use the city par 3 golf course at Sterling Links…it is big enough to have a stadium and a training complex, BUT it’s in an area surrounded by homes. It was dismissed due to the difficulty of getting those homeowners to agree to itas well as other logistical factors.

A property half a mile from where the current stadium is was considered (known locally as the Nielson property where the former location of the Neilson Ratings headquarters was located) It was not owned by the City so it would have had to been purchased…but in the time since consideration began it was sold to a developer and is now unavailable.

The next location was next to the current stadium downtown. This was a possibility, except that the town library would need to be moved and a new library built. That would add an additional 10-12 MILLION dollars to the price of the project. This made it overly expensive.

The next location was to add a stadium at the Mattick complex (next to the current training complex on Solon). There were several problems with this location. It was next to a school and did not allow for enough parking for the stadium. It is also surrounded by homes and the roads leading to it are only two lanes. They could not be widened without  taking land from homeowners. While the people living around the facility are used to having games there, adding 90 foot light towers in their back yard wasn’t deemed practical especially considering all of the other limitations.

This is where a compromise was made. The Jays would not have an “all in one” facility but they would have a modern training facility located at the Mattick facility and the down town stadium would be made into a “Game Day” facility. In this way, both facilities could be improved with as little disruption to the surrounding neighborhoods.

I was incredibly impressed that Blue Jays GM Mark Shapiro flew in for the meeting.



Shapiro talked about how the Jays are the ONLY team in MLB that has spent their entire history spring training in the same place. That’s FORTY YEARS! He spoke of the good partnership with the city as well as how their fans love coming to Dunedin.

Then Director of Florida Operations Shelby Nelson showed pictures of other spring training facilities and compared them to those in Dunedin. I’ll post the pictures side by side for your comparison:

Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy for the Cubs, two soaking (hot/cold) “pools” for the major league team, two for the minor league teams and a therapy pool between. Dunedin’s two therapy “tubs” and the ice machine for  ice baths.

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The Cubs workout space, soaring ceilings, 2nd floor cardio and weights below. Dunedin’s weightroom with 9 foot ceilings and dark atmosphere.

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San Diego’s locker room with it’s open gathering space and large lockers. Dunedin’s dark and divided locker room

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With nutrition being a large part of an athlete’s life, the Twins have a nice cafeteria (to the right) and dining room. Dunedin’s food area below.

Even just a fan can see that the outside fan areas are in need of renovation, but frankly, even knowing some of the inner details of the problems with the stadium, I was shocked and embarrassed at the condition of the training facilities.

It was at this point that they gave us some PRELIMINARY  renderings of what the new training complex might look like.

The Englebert Training Complex as it is today

The Englebert Training Complex as it is today.

The Englebert Training Complex with expansion and new training facility in center (building 4).

The Englebert Training Complex with expansion and new training facility in center (building 4).

The biggest sacrifice with the expansion is that 3 public soft ball fields will be lost/move to another location as will Happy Tails Dog Park. With the softball fields, it is hoped that the new location (yet undecided) will allow for a fourth field making it tournament caliber. Happy Tails Dog Park was built in a drainage area and is subject to frequent flooding and will have needed to be improved/relocated in any event.

The red circle indicates where the three softball fields would be removed for the expansion. the dog park is just to the north of the red circle.

The red circle indicates where the three softball fields would be removed for the expansion. the dog park is just to the north of the red circle.

And now….the stadium! (insert  trumpets blowing, angels singing)

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Current front view of Florida Auto Exchange Stadium

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Left field side of Florida Auto Exchange Stadium

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The right field side of Florida Auto Exchange Stadium

Before I want to post the pictures of the POSSIBLE improvements, it is important to remember that these are only suggestions, ideas, no contracts have been made to design anything. These are just possibilities suggested by world renowned stadium designers Populous. (google their work, it’s amazing). Also this is a MAJOR renovation not a demolition and rebuild. Many improvements will be made around the “old bones”.

Possible new front of Florida Auto Exchange Stadium-Including a new team store that has access to the public all year!

Possible new front of Florida Auto Exchange Stadium-Including a new team store that has access to the public all year!

This is a nice option. as you can see there is a store with access separate from the stadium. Currently, the team store is only open during games and is situated under the stands and can only be accessed to people attending the game.

Florida Auto Exchange Stadium Right field improvements

Florida Auto Exchange Stadium Right field improvements

I like how the new party boxes look like beach cabanas. While their addition adds party space and a nice aesthetic, it isn’t overwhelming in scale. It fits the surrounding neighborhood of single story dwellings. A huge, Brighthouse-esque stadium would overwhelm and dominate the surrounding houses, library, school, VFW and senior center.

Florida Auto Exchange Stadium Overhead view

Florida Auto Exchange Stadium Overhead view

This picture gives you an idea how land locked the stadium will be. those white “tube” looking things are wings of the Curtis Fundamental Elementary School. The building on the top just under the Jays logo is the library. I can’t believe that they were even able to ADD parking spaces. (Ok granted Baseball Ross and I usually WALK to games).

Florida Auto Exchange Stadium looking in from the outfield

Florida Auto Exchange Stadium looking in from the outfield

Now the fun part….

Florida Auto Exchange Stadium Overhead

Florida Auto Exchange Stadium Overhead

Oh look! Berm seating in the outfield! A boardwalk! NEW VIDEO BOARD! SHADE! I repeat SHADE! Oh what’s that…a tiki bar! The amenities are great!

The Tampa Bay Times has a great flyover video HERE.

From there they went into the financial aspects…I’m not getting into that, you can read the details of the money HERE.

The timeline for completion is AGGRESSIVE with plans to be in the renovated facilities by opening day of spring training 2019. Think about that…grants have to be applied for, all the planning and construction contracts have to be open to public bidding. This is very aggressive. If they can keep to the suggested timelines it will be amazing.

Finally, they opened the floor up for public comment. Not one person objected. Members of the merchants’ association spoke, owners of the local Holiday Inn as well as other residents and finally…the Stadium Committee…Our Chairman spoke and before we all sat down…I sucked up my courage and asked to speak. I have a fear of public speaking and even just standing as a member of the committee I was worried I’d be sick…then I just couldn’t stand there and NOT say something.

Baseball Betsy Speaks!

Baseball Betsy Speaks!

I swallowed hard and told the story I recounted at the beginning of this blog, how it was because of Blue Jays baseball that I found my forever home. How after visiting just that one day, it changed my life and how we moved here. I guess it was a rather impassioned speech…and as I finished (without passing out or puking I might add) there was applause. I got applause.

ETA: If you are interested, here’s a link to my SPEECH.
The meeting ended and afterwords, GM Mark Shapiro made a point of shaking my hand and thanking me for speaking as did the Director of Florida Operations Shelby Nelson.

I just want to add for those of you you may not be familiar, the training facility is used 365 days a year and that the stadium not only is used for spring training but the Blue Jays also have a Florida State League team that plays there all season, another five to five and a half months. Three of the new fields at Mattick will also be able to be used by the public outside of spring training. The stadium also hosts events other than Jays baseball. It’s not just a lot of money that will be spent on a “gym, fields and a stadium” that will only be used one month a year. It’s very important that people know that.

So there we go. The ball is in motion. It seems that the majority if not all of the council and mayor are for the project. Now it’s up to the accountants…Nothing is set in stone but the best thing I took away from the meeting is that the city and the Jays want to work together. This is something that both sides will work for and hopefully we will all have our happy baseball ending.

I took all of the renderings from the power point presentation from last night’s meeting. I thank everyone involved in their creation. (There are additional pictures in the fly over article.)

Tonight is the second part of the presentation. At the senior center across the street from the stadium all of the people who gave presentations will be there in an informal setting where they can be approached and asked questions. I hope to be able to get some better pictures and more information.

It’s a long way from happening but I’m in it for the long haul. I’m not going to give up on the committee and will do what I can to help the project on track, even it it means just being a cheerleader at council meetings.

 

 

Elniery Garcia promoted to AA-Reading

With the end of the Threshers season, all of the players are packing up to go home…except LHP Elniery Garcia, he’s packing for Reading.


Garcia had an strong season here in Clearwater, he was 12-4 with a 2.68 ERA. Garcia was impressive in his final outing of the season, racking up a career high eleven strike outs against the playoff bound Dunedin Blue Jays. You can see the third strike call of all eleven strike outs HERE.

Looks like Garcia is peaking at the right time and we hope he can help Reading in the playoffs.

Hurricane Hermine and Damage at the Phillies Carpenter Complex 

Hurricane Hermine’s bands of rain moved onshore here this morning. While it was obvious that’s the Threshers game against the Dunedin Blue Jays in Dunedin would be cancelled, our baseball son was still required to report to Brighthouse field. 

It wasn’t too hard of a trip but Old Coachman was closed from the Complex to NE Coachman. There was a few heavy bands of rain and a few periods without rain.


I also took video driving through the area…you can watch it HERE.

Here are a few pictures of the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium where the game was to take place tonight…


Earlier today, the final game of the GCL Phillies was cancelled and it locked them in as the first place team so (weather permitting) the play off game would be held tomorrow. I sincerely doubt it will be played.

So it’s a very wet night.they have added the Clearwater area to the Tropical Storm warning area and we are also under a tornado warning tonight.  Baseball Ross and I live outside the 100 year flood plain so we should be safe.  

Hang in there baseball fans….

Farm Hands Starve in MiLB as MLB Harvests a $9.5 Billion Cash Crop

Kent Babb of the Washington Post recently submitted a story that is all too familiar to me. regarding the low salaries that MiLB players make and the difficulties player have making a quality of life based on those saleries. You can read Philly.com’s repost HERE.

I’ve been around these kids for years. It’s why Baseball Ross and I have opened our home to three different players over the years, rent-free. It’s so hard to know that these kids that everyone seems to want a piece of are living in such poor conditions and are under so much financial strain.

One year, we knew of SIX guys living in a one bedroom, one bathroom garage apartment. To live in such cramped conditions, they were paying $280 per guy, per month.  Something that gets left out is that yes, when moving from low-A Lakewood to Clearwater the  increase in wage is $200/month. The biggest difference is that in Clearwater, the players are responsible for their own housing while in Lakewood (and Williamsport) the players live with host families. So in the example above, they gain $200, take out the $280 for rent and they are actually losing $80/month with their “promotion”.

We went to buy a mattress and got to talking to the salesman. The store is across the street from the stadium. He told us that every spring they get a ton of players looking to buy the absolute cheapest mattresses, sometimes one that isn’t even long enough for them to stretch out on without their feet hanging off. He told us, “These kids are professional athletes and they are sleeping on bad mattresses, how can they perform at their best?”

It’s a difficult situation. Former Phillies minor league pitcher, Eric Pettis wrote a book “Just a Minor Perspective” (available for Amazon Kindle-you can find it by clicking HERE) that outlined his experiences in the minor league. Two of his anecdotes have always stuck with me:

  1. How on the long bus trips, there were not enough berths on the bus for everyone to be able to sleep in a “bed” so some had to sleep in the seats or even on the floor.
  2. How before a game there was only peanut butter, jelly and bananas available in the club house. If you had to stay on the field to work with a coach, it might be all gone by the time you got into the locker room and you’d have to play on an empty stomach.

The pregame "spread" in Williamsport a few years ago. (Photo courtesy of Eric Pettis)

The pregame “spread” in Williamsport a few years ago. (Photo courtesy of Eric Pettis)

On the plus side, according to Matt Gelb of Philly.com, this year, the Phillies have taken a step to make sure young developing athletes get the nutrition they need. This year, they will spend $1 million to provide healthy meals for the minor league players and staff. You can read the article HERE.

It’s important to remember that players do not just show up an hour before game time. For a starting pitcher on the days they do not start, they need to report by 2 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game. If the player is Spanish speaking, they will often need to report by 1 p.m. for their mandatory English class.  By the time the game ends at may be 9:30-10:00, they still need to shower and change clothes so many nights, they do not get to leave until after 11:00. It makes for long days. Travel days, sometimes they need to be on the bus by 8 or 9 in the morning and are only given $20 for meal money. Then there’s hours of travel followed by a game and not leaving the stadium until much later.

It’s a hard life. Norwich High School in Norwich, New York made the following document available on their website that outlines the odds for a high school  baseball player to make the majors:

Baseball
–High school senior players who go on to play NCAA men`s baseball: Less than three in 50, or 5.6 percent

— NCAA senior players drafted by a Major League Baseball (MLB) team: Less than eleven in 100, or 10.5 percent.

— High school senior players eventually drafted by an MLB team: About one in 200, or 0.5 percent. Drafted baseball players almost always go to a minor league team. These teams abound; there are over 150 of them, compared to 30 in the majors. The big leagues have 750 players, yet the 2004 draft alone took 1,500. Hence some estimate that only one in 33 minor leaguers ever makes it to the pros. If that’s correct, the chance of a high school player making the big leagues is one in 6,600, or 0.015 percent. That’s roughly the chance of a thief guessing your PIN number on the first try.

This article doesn’t even address the long odds of a Latin player to make it. It’s a hard, hard life, one in which few see the ultimate reward of a MLB contract. For many it’s more than a dream, it’s a way out of poverty, a way to not only feed themselves but also their family.

Major League Baseball needs to take a hard look at itself. Yes, they are a business but it would be like a farmer working horses in the fields all day and feeding them barely enough oats to survive. Wouldn’t they harvest a richer crop if their horses, or in this case, players were working in optimum conditions? Fair pay is just the first step.

My Favorite Carlos Ruiz Story

For the most part, we all have the collective memories of Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz, running into the arms of Brad Lidge after winning the World Series in 2008, catching Roy Halladay’s  perfect game and the no hitter in the World Series, it’s our collective memory. I feel lucky that I have something a little different.

I’ve been going to Spring Training since 2007, so I’ve tried to get his autograph many times. Until the last few years, he didn’t sign a lot at Spring Training. He was what us autograph hounds call  a “hard get” or a hard to get autograph. It always seemed like when I did catch him signing, I’d be the one next to the guy who got the last autograph before Ruiz stopped signing. It was frustrating. I’d spent years trying and had nothing to show for it.

I had a good number of the 2008 World Series team and I was just about at the end of my rope. Then, two years ago, Ruiz was making a rehab appearance after his Adderall suspension. Baseball Ross and I went over to Steinbrenner Field where the Threshers were playing the Tampa Yankees. Being familiar with how the stadium was set up, I went to stand on the third base side to the left of the dugout. Pitchers and catchers usually exit the dugout, walk down the third base side and then down to the visitors’ bullpen that is in the corner by left field. I went down to the front row, just next to that side of the dugout and waited before the game. I was the only one there.

On the other side of the dugout was a large group of fans, pens in hand, waiting. when he exited the locker room and entered the dugout they started screaming, “Chooch! Chooch!” They started jostling and pushing for position. I stayed quiet and alone on the third base line. He looked at the cacophony and quietly turned away and headed for the bullpen.

As he approached me I quietly said, “Excuse me, Mr. Ruiz, would you please sign my ball?” He looked at me and gave that smile and signed for me. I said, “Thank you.” and he replied, “You’re welcome.” With a nod of his head he continued on his was as the gaggle of autograph groupies were loudly running from the other side of the dug out, “Chooching” the entire way.

Ruiz just gave me one last smile as he walked away. It always made me like the guy, I felt like I was just a little bit special. I guess he appreciated my politeness and was turned off by the craziness on the other end.

Carlos Ruiz ball next to my signed Roy Halladay’s signed glove

Ruiz was also the subject of my favorite ballpark giveaway, the “Chooching Owl”. It’s a “hoot”!

http://playola.co/p/38cdff

Enough is Enough! More Netting is Needed at Baseball Stadiums! Freddie Galvis is Right!

This is a subject that is a personal one for me and I’ll explain why later.

Last night, Freddie Galvis hit a fly ball that zoomed into the stands and hit a young girl in the face. She was injured and taken to Children’s Hospital. We had, ironically, just turned on the game when they were showing her being carried out of the stands. The accident obviously left Freddie shaken. He was quoted by Matt Breen’s article (Read the entire article HERE) as saying:

“What if I broke all her teeth. What if I broke her nose. If I hit her in one eye and she loses that. What are they going to do? They’re going to forget in three days,” Galvis said. “It’s going to be a big deal for two, three days. Everybody in TV, media, whatever. But after three days what’s going to happen? They’re going to forget. But that family won’t forget that. Do you think the little baby will forget that? It’s true life. It’s something you have to put before everything. Safety first. Safety.”

He’s right on so many levels. As I stated earlier, I have personal experience in this area. In 1997, I was at a Hershey Bears hockey game and was hit by a puck. It just wasn’t a gentle flip over the boards, it was a line drive. You ask if I was paying attention, I was. Much like a line drive this puck had been a wrap around shot, as it flew along the glass, it picked up speed as if it was the end skater in a line of skaters playing “crack the whip”.

I heard it coming. I had worked for the Bears for two years previously, (so I KNOW what a puck like that sounds like) and was on a date with Ross at the time. As I turned to see which way to move to get out of the way, I saw it leave where the glass went from high to low and whip into the crowd. It was so fast I had no chance to move and it hit me right between the eyes. I remember every thing distinctly-the split second I had to realize the puck was coming for me and the other infinitesimal amount of time to realize there was no way to move fast enough to get out of the way. I remember “pop” as my skull fractured. For just a fraction of a second, I worried that Ross had also been hit and as I turned to look at him, my vision was gone. I didn’t lose my sight, there was that much blood gushing down my face that I couldn’t see. I didn’t see anything until a few minutes later when the EMTs were holding gauze on the gaping wound and wiped the blood from my eyes.

It cost (in 1997) $500 to go the four miles to the Hershey Medical Center by ambulance. At the hospital they determined my injuries to be:

  • concussion
  • skull fracture
  • the front bone of my forehead had been pushed 1mm into my sinus cavity
  • the cut-required 15 stitches (5 interior, 10 exterior) for most of which I didn’t have any anesthetic.

The doctor explained that had it hit me almost anywhere else along my eye, I would have likely lost vision and had it hit the temple, well let’s just say there’d be no Baseball Betsy after that. Luckily I recovered, but I do have a rather impressive scar for my permanent souvenir.

5 years later, in the spring of 2002, 13 year old Brittanie Cecil was hit in the head at a Columbus Blue Jackets game and she passed away from her injuries two days later. It was the first fan death at an NHL game. By the next fall, the NHL had acted and required all venues to increase the height of the glass and to have the netting we see today. They didn’t wait. They acted.

But no one has ever died from a foul ball you say? Yes, someone has been killed by a foul ball at a Major League Baseball game! May 16, 1970, at Dodgers Stadium, Manny Mota hit a foul into the stands that hit 14 year old Alan Fish. Fish died four days later in an area hospital of “an inoperable head injury.” MLB did not change a thing.

This year (over 45 years later) they did encourage not require teams to increase the netting and many did, but only THREE of the THIRTY teams have netting that extends over the dugouts. Here in Clearwater, they also extended the netting to the inside end of the dugout approximately an additional 10 feet but here the netting does not go high enough. I’ve been hit/almost hit several times as well has Ross. Our seats are in the 5th row behind home. We do not get direct shots, in our case, if the foul is high enough it will soar over the top cross bar and then hit the suite level and ricochet into the crowd FROM BEHIND. Ross and I are pretty good at dodging them but I have seen many casual fans get hit in the back or back of the head because they are lulled into a false sense of security of sitting “behind the net”.

Let me know if I'm going to get one in the back of the head, ok?

Let me know if I’m going to get one in the back of the head, ok?

Fans deserve to be able to to expect safety when they attend an event. They expect professional organizations to look out for them. Instead they are told (as I was at the hockey games) that “patrons are warned of potential injury from objects leaving the playing surface.” They don’t warn of possible death and disfigurement.

Last year, Tonya Carpenter sustained life threatening injuries after a broken bat flew into the stands at Fenway Park in Boston. In the time I’ve been a season ticket holder here in Clearwater, I’ve seen several minor injuries and sadly, one elderly lady who was sitting over the first base dugout LOST AN EYE after being hit by a foul ball. But yet, even after the this years’ “extension” she wouldn’t have been safe.

In 2014, Bloomberg.com carried an article where their analysis is that 1,750 fans are injured EVERY YEAR at MLB games! You can read their article that also chronicles critical injuries to a 7 year old boy at a Cubs game HERE.

I’m hoping that Freddie Galvis can convince at least the Phillies, if not all of MLB, that WE NEED PROTECTION NOW! Not just for fans, but for players. How do you think Manny Mota feels knowing he killed a child? Freddie Galvis is right and MLB has to listen. How many more people have to be injured or die? I’m sure Alan Fish, who would have been 60 this year, would have asked for more netting, but he can’t.