A Girl, Her Papa and Her Favorite Baseball Player

On December 21, my grandfather passed away. Papa was 84. He is the only grandfather I have ever known (my maternal grandfather passed away when my mom was eight). In my 30 years with him, he taught me many things. One of those things was about the Atlanta Braves. Neither of us knew when I was a kid how much I would come to love this game.

It is no secret that I used to kiss and hug the TV every time Dale Murphy came to the plate. Papa would use his trademark whistle to call myself and my cousin, Amy into the room. If a game was on, we knew it meant to hurry up because Murph was either on deck or already at the plate.

One of my favorite memories with Papa also involves baseball. When I was about 13, one of our favorite Braves players was coming to Charlotte for an autograph signing. Papa showed us an ad in the sports section of the paper announcing World Champion Atlanta Braves Catcher, Javy Lopez, would be at the Charlotte Merchandise Mart. When Papa discovered the ad, Javy’s appearance was just a couple of days away. Naturally, we begged and pleaded for Papa to take us to meet Javy (or Harvey, as Papa insisted on calling him). Papa conceded and said he’d take us, even though it was $20 per autograph and we’d be standing in long lines.

The day finally came and we eagerly waited in line with other fidgety kids and adults for a few minutes of our hero’s time. I don’t recall much about standing in line, but I’m sure it was filled with Amy & I chattering. I do remember the kid in front of us. His mom forgot to bring a camera and Papa had his Polaroid around his neck. The teenage boy asked if there was any way at all Papa would take a picture of him and Javy. Papa agreed and made the boy’s day.

Finally, it was our turn. I think Amy went first. I remember being very excited, but not nervous. Javy smiled and shook my hand. He signed my ball, which is sitting atop my jewelry armoire in a baseball case. It’s a little discolored now, but the signature in blue pen ink is still clear and the ball still smells like rubber if I remove the top half of the case’s cover. I asked if I could take a picture with him and he agreed. This was really happening! I moved behind the table and stood behind Javy. I always remember how good he smelled.

It was over way too quickly, but it was one of the greatest days of my life. And I’m glad that I always have that memory to look back on, especially when I think of Papa.

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Don’t You Know That You Are a Shooting (All) Star?

It’s that time once again. Today the All Star Game selections were announced.

As always, there were a few surprises and snubs.

The reserves have a p if they were voted in by the players or an m if they were voted on by the managers.

Without further ado, here are your 2012 All Stars:

*Catcher

AL- Mike Napoli

NL– Buster Posey

*First Base

AL-Prince Fielder

NL- Joey Votto

*Second Base

AL- Robinson Cano

NL- Dan Uggla

*Third Base

AL-Adrian Beltre

NL-Pablo Sandoval

*Shortstop

AL-Derek Jeter

NL-Rafael Furcal

*Outfield

AL– Josh Hamilton

Curtis Granderson

Jose Bautista

NL-Matt Kemp

Carlos Beltran

Melky Cabrera

*NL Pitchers

Clayton Kershaw

Craig Kimbrel

Aroldis Chapman

Gio Gonzalez

Stephen Strasburg

Cole Hamels

Jonathan Papelbon

Wade Miley

R.A. Dickey

Lance Lynn

Joel Hanrahan

Huston Street

Matt Cain

*NL Reserves

SS-Starlin Castro (p)

1B-Bryan LaHair (p)

OF-Jay Bruce (m)

OF-Carlos Gonzalez (p)

2B-Jose Altuve (p)

OF-Giancarlo Stanton (m)

OF-Ryan Braun (p)

3B-David Wright (p)

C-Carlos Ruiz (m)

OF-Andrew McCutchen (p)

C-Yadier Molina (p)

SS-Ian Desmond (m)

*AL Pitchers

Matt Harrison

Joe Nathan

Felix Hernandez

Ryan Cook

Justin Verlander

CC Sabathia (will not play; on DL)

CJ Wilson (replaces Sabathia)

Jered Weaver

Jim Johnson

Chris Sale

Chris Perez

Fernando Rodney

David Price

*Reserves

OF-Adam Jones (p)

C-Matt Weiters (p)

DH-Adam Dunn (p)

1B-Paul Konerko (p)

SS-Asdrubal Cabrera (p)

3B-Miguel Cabrera (p)

DH-Billy Butler (m)

OF-Mike Trout (p)

OF-Mark Trumbo (p)

C-Joe Mauer (m)

SS-Elvis Andrus (m)

2B-Ian Kinsler (p)

*34th Man Fan Vote

NL

*Michael Bourn

*David Freese

*Bryce Harper

*Aaron Hill

*Chipper Jones

AL

*Jonathan Broxton

*Yu Darvish

*Ernesto Frieri

*Jason Hammel

*Jake Peavy

To me, the biggest surprise was Pablo Sandoval. Most people thought that Wright would go in as the starting third baseman. He definitely has the numbers and was leading the votes for the starter as of last Monday. However, Sandoval and the Giants have been on a tear as of late and are currently in first place in the NL West. I’m of fan of the Kung Fu Panda and am happy for him.

Speaking of third baseman, I really hope you will join me in voting for Chipper Jones at the 34th Man. I think it’d be another great way to send him out in his final season. If you need to be convinced, I think you should read my Bleacher Report article on this very subject.

Voting for the 34th Man ends at 4 PM ET on July 5th.

The All Star Game takes place in Kansas City on July 10th.

Feeling Chipper

Dun uh, dun uh, dun uh (ay, ay, ay)…

When any baseball fan hears that bass line blare over the speakers at Turner Field, they know who is coming to the plate. Much like a pro wrestler coming down the ramp, the music sets a tone. It gets the home crowd amped and they express themselves vocally. Fans hearing “Crazy Train” expect something big to happen.

Once Chipper announced his retirement, I immediately knew I’d write a blog about it. I decided to wait until the season started. Watching Chipper play his final season would give me perspective. So far, he’s playing like a 25 year old, other than taking days off to rest the knee. When he’s playing, you’d never guess he has had six knee surgeries, let alone one during Spring Training. He is hitting .307 with 5 home runs and 24 RBI. It seems like after every game he plays after a day off, he hits a homer. Seeing Chipper play like this makes it harder to believe he’ll retire at season’s end. But, he is 40 and playing 19 seasons have taken its toll on his body. After seeing what happened to Mariano Rivera and Lance Berkman, it was just a reminder of what could happen to Chipper, especially with surgically repaired knees.

Back in the summer in 1996, I was reintroduced to baseball. I loved all the Braves, but Ryan Klesko, Javy Lopez, and Chipper Jones were my favorites. As a Braves fan, I could always count on Chipper holding down third base and batting in the three hole. Sometimes, we could count on knee high socks. After Bobby Cox retired, he left a hole in the heart of Braves Country. As long as Chipper was there, we didn’t notice how big it really was. Now Chipper is joining the only coach he has ever played for. It’ll be hard to ignore that hole in 2013. In fact, it will be even larger.

Some of my favorite Chipper memories are off the field. Rearranging his contract so that there was enough money so that the Braves could sign more elite talent, moving to left field so that Vinny Castilla could play third base, and laughing hysterically at Brian McCann’s triple. In 1999, I remember rooting for him to win the MVP and was so happy he finally did. I still have the ChopTalk with him on the cover in a tux holding his trophy. I still think that he was robbed of the Rookie of the Year when finished second to Hideo Nomo. At least one of them is headed to Cooperstown.

Even with the numbers, records and MVP award, it seemed like Chipper was overlooked outside of Braves Country. As Chipper has visited opposing ballparks for the final time, the teams have been recognizing what Chipper and his career mean. The Astros presented him with a white cowboy hat. The Cubs gave him one of the Braves flags that flew over Wrigley Field. The Cardinals bestowed a large framed picture of Chipper at bat at Busch Stadium. It was signed by several people, including Tony LaRussa. He also received an autographed Stan “The Man” Musial jersey. The opposing fans have also shown their respect in classy way. At Wrigley, Chipper stood at the top of the dugout during the final out. The fans directly behind the dugout stood and cheered for Chipper. It soon spread into a standing ovation by all fans in attendance. The St. Louis fans also continually showed their respect and admiration. Everytime Chipper’s name was announced, they loudly cheered for him. It’s wonderful to see Chipper get the recognition he deserves by baseball fans all over the country.

I will get the opportunity to show my appreciation in person next month. I’ll be attending game one of the Yankees/Braves series. I’m hoping that Chipper will be playing. Hopefully, we’ll be able to attend one more game this season. I look forward to watching Chipper enjoy the last games of his career, padding his resume and more importantly, entertaining the fans.

Thank you, Chipper. Thank you for everything.

Meeting “Murph”

My grandpa, Ben (Papa), is a huge Braves fan and passed his love onto his granddaughters. In the 80s, the best and most popular Brave was Dale Murphy. Every time he came to bat, Papa would call my cousin Amy & I into the room. When the camera would show him at the plate, we would hug & kiss the TV. No, I am not ashamed to write that sentence publically.

Murphy has remained one of my favorite players. He has always represented the Braves and baseball with the utmost class. After his playing career ended, he founded the “I Won’t Cheat” foundation. They promote non-steroid use and ethical behavior by young athletes. He also calls a handful of Braves games along with public speaking engagements. Murphy also interacts with his fans on Twitter (@dalemurphy3).

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to meet Murphy. The Charlotte Knights were playing a three game series versus the Gwinnett Braves. They also hosted a meet and greet with Murphy. Purchasing a ticket to Friday night’s game gave the fans the chance to attend the event. Gates opened at 6 PM and Murphy began signing in the plaza at the same time. Knowing there would be many fans there, Amy & I arrived around 5:15 PM. There were about 30 people ahead of us. As the clock approached 6, the line grew longer and longer. Finally, we were able to enter the ballpark. Some fans ran past us (mostly kids) to get in line. As we waited in line, I saw Murphy walking to the table. It became more real that this was really happening. Because of the amount of people that were participating in the meet and greet, they only allowed one item to be signed per person. We were also not permitted to take photos with Murphy. I was disappointed, but I understood why.

The line moved quickly & before I knew it, it was Amy’s turn. While Murphy signed her baseball card, I snapped a couple photos. Before I knew it, it was my turn. I handed Murphy my baseball card and he said “hello” and asked how I was. I think I replied that I was doing well. He handed me back the card and I thanked him for signing it and he thanked me for coming. It all happened very quickly, but it is something I’ll never forget. Dale Murphy was so nice and was everything that I expected. Before the game, Murphy threw the first pitch. He stopped the meet and greet long enough to do his duties. As we walked toward the Braves dugout, he “chopped” the fans on this visitors’ side. He resumed his meet and greet. I believe that he signed autographs through the sixth inning.

The Braves ended up winning 3-0. A perfect ending for a perfect night.

Pujols & The Angels: The Halo Fits

In my last post, I told you about the biggest stories affecting baseball in 2012 for my MLB Fan Cave application. Here’s the one I wrote about Albert Pujols (FYI: I had to shorten parts of my essay to meet the application standards. This is the full version I orginally wrote with an update at the end).

After months of speculation and rumors, the greatest player of his generation signed a new contract. Albert Pujols made the somewhat surprising decision to sign with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Many thought he would stay loyal to the team that drafted him and the only team that he had ever played for. Others thought he’d leave the Cardinals, but stay in the National League. Now that reality has set in, the deal makes sense for both parties.

Pujols gets the contract he wanted, though I think that the years were more important than the money. The money is just an added bonus, as he is already set for life. Pujols wanted the years guarantee and the Cardinals were too late, especially once the Angels got involved. This deal guarantees that as he ages, he’ll be in the lineup. When the time comes, he will be made a DH.  The Angels are counting on him to score runs until his contract expires. More than likely, Pujols will always be offensively sound, even in his late 30s. The Angels are counting on him to score runs until his contract expires.

I like this deal and think it’s good for everyone involved (minus the Cards, of course). He seems to be adjusting well with the Halos as he has blasted 17 homers and hit .407 (as of April 1).

Here is a video of his 2011 highlights. Sorry if this video offends any Cardinals fans.

 

Miami Marlins: New Stadium, New Unis, New Faces, Oh My!

In my last blog, I shared that I had applied for the 2012 MLB FanCave. Unfortunately, I didn’t get past the first round. There’s always next year.

In the aforementioned blog, I stated that part of  the application process was writing an essay on what I thought the three biggest storylines would be in 2012. I chose the Ryan Braun scandal, the Miami Marlins & Albert Pujols signing with the Angels. I decided to turn the essay into separate blogs.

I decided to start with the Miami Marlins. I will eventually get around to writing one about Ryan Braun (my original blog is dated since it was pre-suspension hearing).

Here we go…

The second biggest news in the offseason was the Miami Marlins signing bonanza. They moved into a new stadium, got new uniforms and a new manager. They signed Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle, and Carlos Zambrano.

With the signing of Reyes, Hanley Ramirez will be shifted to third base. There have been reports of Ramirez’s unhappiness with the move. How will his new position and attitude affect his defense? Ozzie Guillen is probably the best person to guide Ramirez at his new position.Guillen relates well to his players and can help Ramirez settle in and make the best of the move.

I think Guillen is the best person to manage the Miami Marlins. He’s already familiar with the organization, as he coached the Florida Marlins in 2003. He can relate to many of his players which in turn, will help him coach better. I’m really looking forward to his interactions with Logan Morrison. They both have distinct personalities and senses of humor.

The biggest task is translating the team from paper to the field. On paper, the Miami Marlins are a stellar team. They signed some of baseball’s biggest free agents and are paying them handsomely. Guillen has to help mold these individuals into a team.

It will be interesting (and fun) to watch what happens this year. Lets not forget the aquarium behind home plate at the new stadium. And the monstrosity that is the homerun feature.

What is this?!?!

You’re welcome.

I can’t come up with anything better to end this blog than that.

To The FanCave…

Today, I officially entered the MLB FanCave 2012 contest.

I’ve been wanting to enter since last season. The whole concept of the FanCave is amazing and wonderful. If you’re unfamiliar with the FanCave, finalists are chosen to live in NYC and watch EVERY SINGLE MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL GAME of the season. They blog and tweet about it. They get to interview the players and celebrities that stop by. So, obviously, it’s my dream job.

This year, they’re switching it up a bit. Last season (which was the first time there was a FanCave), there were only two winners. This season, there will be six finalists. They will have to compete against each other to stay in the FanCave. The fan who makes it to the end of the season wins.

So, now you can see why this is the BEST. JOB. EVER!

And the application process is serious business. I had to write two essays totaling 1000 words, submit a video answering another question, send links to this blog and my Twitter account, submit a resume and a pic.

I wrote about why I would be the best fan to win and the three biggest storylines heading into the 2012 season (Braun, Marlins, Pujols). In my video, I talk about my favorite moment in baseball history, which you can watch now.

Please watch this video and feel free to pass it along to others.

Fingers crossed that I move into the next round of 50 semi-finalists on Feburary 6.