The Long, Hot Summer and My Favorites From It

I’ll admit it, I’ve slacked off a bit this summer. It’s hard not to. This has been one of the hottest summers in recent history and definitely the hottest since Baseball Ross and I moved to Florida full-time.  Almost every day for over a week has had “feels like” temperatures over 100, with one day being 110!

With the heat like that, going to Gulf Coast League games at noon is brutal. At the Carpenter Complex, there is a trade off: if you want shade-you get no breeze, if you want a breeze-you get no shade. Regardless of where you sit, every available space for spectators is covered in heat-absorbing concrete.

Couple all the heat with a severe case of elbow tendinitis in my right elbow that kept me from being able to take pictures with anything heavier than an iPhone and you have a recipe for a long summer.

That being said, I have gotten to see a fair bit of baseball and a few things that helped me to love baseball again.

So I will list them here (in no particular order):

1. Winning a jersey in an auction that was worn by my favorite Williamsport Crosscutter. Ross and I have been good friends with Feliberto Sanchez since last year when he spent the year here in GCL and the Fall Instructional League. He’s a great kid and I just had to have the jersey. OK, the auction was for their “Ugly Christmas Sweater” promotion, but still, it was Sanchez’s jersey. There was only one problem. The Cutters never responded to my inquiry about proxy phone bidding. Luckily, Tim Luzier (@20schmidtfan) saw my plea and helped me out. I’m so grateful for his help.

Sanchez Jersey

2. Our crazy marathon trip to see every team in the Phillies minor league system–IN ONE WEEK. (You can read it and see the pictures in this post.) 3,200 miles (1,200 by car) and it was a blast. That being said, I’m not sure I’d do it again! It was very draining.

3. Seeing pitchers overcome difficulties and succeed. Colin Kleven had a back injury that prematurely ended his season in Clearwater last year. Seeing him come back and steadily progress has been great. As difficult of a season that Clearwater had, I always looked forward and went out of my way to see him pitch and was often rewarded by a strong performance.

Colin Kleven
Colin Kleven at the preseason “Meet the Players” picnic

I was also glad to see Jesse Biddle roar back in a rehab appearance here in Clearwater. Jesse’s difficulties this year, starting with a concussion caused by a hail stone, have been well documented. To see him tear it up in his first rehab appearance was just great. (You can read my blog about Jesse here.)

Jesse Biddle
Jesse Biddle

3. Seeing Aaron Nola’s first and second professional starts. That could be one of those things that in 10 years I’ll be bragging about it. You can read about his first start HERE and the second start HERE.

Aaron Nola
Aaron Nola

4. Getting to know Frank Viola III and learning about the knuckle ball. I had written a story about Frank’s return to baseball and one night, while Ross and I were at dinner the waiter came up to me and asked, “Would you happen to be Baseball Betsy?” I replied that I was and he smiled and said, “The gentleman at that table over there would like to buy you dessert.” (Now there’s a guy who knows the way to my heart!) I looked over and it was Frank and his mother. He had read the story and liked it. Ross and I ended up joining them and had a great time. I learned so much about the “mindset of the knuckleball”.  If you’ve read my blog this summer, about a third of the posts were about knuckleballs.

Frank Viola III

After that, I followed his progress through the Blue Jays minor league system including a stop in Dunedin, where I got to see him pitch.

Sadly, my heart was broken at the end of July when he was released. On the plus side, I made a new friend and that is amazing by itself.

5. Helping the Threshers mascot, Phinley win the Mascot Mania Challenge to be the best mascot in ALL of minor league baseball. It was a hard push, but after hundreds of tweets, retweets, online votes and my followers retweeting my tweets helped to make Phinley a winner. It was a matter of time since he was second last year.

photo photo

 

I know looking at the picture above you can hear “You’re the Best Around” playing in your head.

6. Bark in the Park/Yappy Hour. To me, this is the best trend in all of baseball. Pay a few dollars to an animal charity for a “ticket” for your dog and they can join you at the game. We have two small shih tzus and over the years we have taken them to several BitPs. Sadly, Maggie our 14 year old, cannot endure the Florida heat so she was not able to attend this year, but Veronica our youngest, LOVES to go. I wrote a story about her game.

Veronica LOVES baseball
Veronica LOVES baseball

Just look at that face, you can tell she’s having a blast.

So there are the things I loved most about the summer of 2014, I couldn’t really even rank them because they were all pretty stellar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Knuckleballer comes to Dunedin

If you have been reading my blog, you will remember my story from May where I talked about meeting Frank Viola III, who is making a comeback to baseball through a conversion to a knuckleball pitcher. You can read it HERE

After Extended Spring Training, Viola was sent to the Lansing Lugnuts in the Blue Jays’ farm system. After barely a month there, he was promoted to High-A Dunedin on Wednesday. Last night, he made his first start as a Dunedin Blue Jay.

Viola first game Dunedin Line up

I really enjoyed watching him pitch, he did well, especially for the first time with a new team, in a new town and in the blistering heat and humidity of Florida after a month in the cool of Lansing.

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Frank Viola Distance

Looking at the line for a knuckleball pitcher is much different than the line of a “normal” pitcher. As Viola told me, “I pitch to soft-contact.” This means that a knuckleballer doesn’t throw for strike outs, but more for pop-ups and easily fielded balls.

Viola had  6IP, 5H, 1R, 1ER, 4BB, 0SO, 0HR, 1.5ERA

As Baseball Ross would put it, “It was a Quality Start.”

Baseball Ross and I like to sit in the front row and in Dunedin, a row that is exceptionally close to the action. With taking pictures if I can get close to the net, then I can use the camera to focus “past” it so that it doesn’t show up in the pictures. (As you can see above.) I am learning to take video with my Nikon. It’s a little different to focus so I was leaning a little closer to the net than I usually do. I was so engrossed in videoing, that I didn’t react in time…then THIS happened. Lesson learned.

Dunedin is a small town and as such, the Fourth of July is a “big deal”. They had their “Hometown Fourth” party, tickets to the game were free, leading to an attendance of 4,173.  After the game there was a concert until dark when there was a twenty minute fireworks display.

Life doesn’t get much better than this, good pitching, good baseball and a small hometown celebration. America the Beautiful.

 

Nichols Knuckles?

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll have noticed my new obsession, the knuckleball.

Today, I got to see the Phillies’ own (extended spring training anyway) Chris Nichols throw his knuckleball. From the rumors I’ve heard, he’s only been doing it for a few months.

The last time I saw Nichols throw his knuckleball, I had missed most of his inning, and had only seen a few pitches, not enough to make a judgement. Today, I got to see his entire inning.

Here’s some video, you can see when the knuckleball works (and doesn’t)

Nichols’ Knuckle

While Nichols’ grip is similar to Frank Viola III’s (he’s the pitcher it profiled earlier), his delivery is just slightly different:

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In this next sequence, you can see the positions in order:

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A few of his knuckleballs really moved well. He seems to be progressing with it. It will be interesting to see how it plays out, where he ends up and when.

I know I’ll be watching.

Trouble with the Knuckle

I’ve become fascinated by the knuckleball. They say the first step to healing is to admit you have a problem. So there, I’ve said it. I’m fascinated by the knuckleball.

I saw R.A. Dickey throw his in spring training, while I thought it was “neat”, because of the angle of my seats, I never got to appreciate the movement of the ball. I did get to appreciate R.A., however. I saw him walking around downtown Dunedin, my hometown and the place where the Jays spring train. I didn’t say hello, I didn’t want to bother him, but he’s definitely the kind of guy that stands out in a crowd.

I also “just missed” running into R.A. at my hair salon. No, REALLY. LOL. My stylist, who is simply the best I’ve ever had, said to me when I came in, “you’re into baseball, you know who that guy was?”

“What was his name?” I asked.

“I think he plays for the Jays, he’s got letters for a name.”

My eyes widened, “R.A.?”

“Yeah, that’s it! I cut his hair.” She smiled and went about her work on my mane.

Sure enough, next time I saw him, he had a new cut. But I digress.

I was lucky enough to have the pleasure to talk to Frank Viola III again this week and he and I had a lengthy discussion about the knuckleball: how to throw it, the way the strategy is a little different with a knuckleball and how what you aim for with a knuckleball is “soft contact”.

I found it fascinating because you think of the mentality of a pitcher wanting to go out and mow down the batters with a simple 1-2-3 inning, but with a knuckleballer, it’s more of a “set them up, then a soft contact hit for an out.”

Dickey did just that yesterday. It seemed like he had it all under control. He lasted 8.1 innings 5H, 2R, 2ER, 1BB and 1HR (that was in the 1st inning).

Baseball Ross and I listed on the MLB channel on satellite radio as we were running errands. I almost didn’t get my errands done because if Dickey was pitching I wouldn’t get out of the car.

Dickey was dealing…and I was hanging on every knuckled pitch.

I am hoping that I can catch Viola pitch this week, I just have to see that pitch, I’m like a cat watching a laser pointer.

Hi, my name is Betsy and I’m a knuckleball addict.

Knuckle Down-Frank Viola III, a Knuckle Ball Pitcher in the Blue Jays System

Every once in a while you meet a guy, someone out of the ordinary who grabs your attention, this spring, for me, it’s Frank Viola III.

Viola, who turns 30 this year was something of a journeyman, playing with several teams and being affected by Tommy John surgery and a knee injury. By 2007, he was out of baseball.

In 2012, Viola started working with R.A. Dickey, Tim Wakefield and Phil Niekro on developing a knuckleball. In March, he was signed by the Toronto Blue Jays, which is where I first encountered him.

I was walking around the Englebert Complex taking pictures (as I always do) and stopped to watch one of the games. I was sitting on the bleachers when one of the Jays, asked about my camera. I was using my wifi adapter to wirelessly send pictures from my Nikon to my iPhone so that I could photoshop them and upload them to my blog.

We got into a conversation about technology and how I’m a self-proclaimed nerd. He replied, “that’s ok, so am I.”

We chatted for a while and when done he introduced himself just as “Frank”.

For a while, that was all I knew except that he was good friends with R.A Dickey. After some research, I found out who he was and was intrigued by his attempt at a comeback as a knuckleball pitcher.

Unfortunately, even with the Extended Spring Training Phillies and Blue Jays playing each other every week, I never managed to catch him pitching…until today.

Baseball Ross always says his favorite thing about baseball is that every day you will see something you’ve never seen before. Today, I finally got my chance.

I was fascinated. Knuckleballers are rather rare and Viola throws his from a 3/4 arm slot. It was something I’ve never seen and I was just amazed.

I took several pictures:

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I even took some video:
Click Here to See

So that was my morning. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the game, sitting in the sun and seeing something new.

Baseball is the life and a good one.