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In another example of Baseball as business, The Miami Marlins seem to have woken up from their spending spree spring and are doing whatever they can to get some of their money back. For the first time in years, the Marlins front office opened up their checkbooks and went after big-name, high –priced, high-profile players. With a new stadium, new name and new logo, they wanted to show everyone they were serious about putting together a competitive team this year. So after picking up all-star shortstop, Jose Reyes, they added Mark Buehrle and closer Heath Bell to their already above average bullpen. On top of that, they brought in Ozzie Guillen, a fiery, loud, competitive manager to try to mold all of the pieces together into a playoff worthy team.

At first, it seemed to work. The Marlins spent most of the first 2 ½ months in contention for the division lead. And then reality set-in, in the form of a 17 out of 20 game losing streak in July. And it seems that now the management has decided they no longer want to be on the hook for some of the money they put out earlier, knowing that they aren’t going to be heading into the playoffs, and watching the attendance in the new ballpark start to dwindle.

First they let go of Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez. Two of the top contributors to the little success the team has had this year. Next came the release of Hanley Ramirez. A $15 million/year, .240 hitter. But he has been the face of the Marlins for the past 5 years. Yes, he hasn’t been playing like the rookie of the year, batting title, base stealing all-star he was in the past, but he was still a big part of the franchise. But business is business, and the Marlins were able to unload him, and his huge salary to the Dodgers. Now it looks like Josh Johnson is on the block to be sold off next. This is even harder to explain to my kids because he’s been an all-around good guy. A top-notch pitcher. Never one to be questioned on his dedication to the team. Yet the Marlins seem eager to unload him, and his big money contract.

Once they let go of Giancarlo Stanton, the team that my boys have grown-up with will be gone. Even my wife, who is a good sport about watching games with us and talking baseball at the dinner table, has a hard time understanding why all the players we have been talking about are getting shipped off so quickly these days. She had finally gotten to know all of the players names. I hope the Marlins feel good about saving a few bucks now, even if it means losing some of the fans they were hoping would buy tickets to fill that new stadium up. After all, if they don’t want to spend money on the team they put out on the field, why should we spend money to watch them?


 
 
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Every once in awhile, something happens during a little league baseball game that you can kind of sense that what happened on the field may have a more lasting impact on a player than usual. There have been movies made about how a kid dropping a fly-ball in a little league game impacts them for the rest of their lives. Yes, it is meant as fiction, however there is no denying the fact that some of that stuff stays with a kid long after the game is over. Last night during my son T's baseball game, I think I witnessed something that if nothing else, made another kid's season a lot more fun.
    T has one amazing friend that has been his best friend for years. His name is T.J. The relationship they have is truly something special, not only to T, but to Angie and I as well. You see T.J. brings something out of T that nobody else can. Whenever they are together, T's whole attitude just lightens up. They are silly. They laugh uncontrollably. They play games. Run around. It's a lot of fun for us as parents to watch. We couldn't have hoped for a better "best friend" for T than T.J.
    They started playing baseball together a few years ago, and even the other coaches in the league kind of know that they are a package deal. They moved up into a different level this year, and T.J. has had a tough time getting used to the different level, and you could tell his confidence wasn't where it has been in the past. T has been a pitcher most of the year, and has had a lot of success. At the beginning of the season T.J. had mentioned he wanted to give pitching a try as well. With just a couple games left in the season, we asked him if he wanted to get on the mound and try pitching. He hadn't done it very often in practice, so nobody knew what to expect. His warm-up pitches looked a little shaky, but he wanted to give it a go. He walked the first batter on four straight pitches. It's tough being a coach, especially when it is a kid you really care about. You don't know if he is going to get up there, have a rough outing and never want to get on the field again. So the next batter comes up and he threw a strike. The place went crazy! Next pitch a ball, but they catch a guy stealing. One out! Then he throws a couple more strikes and that's out number two! Next batter - walked. Originally the head coach and I had said we would pull him after two walks, but we looked at each other and said we need to leave him in. The next batter comes out swinging and T.J. gets ahead in the count. He throws another pitch low and away but got the kid to swing. He strikes him out and the inning is over!
    I had a hard time containing my excitement for what we just saw. The smile on his face was awesome! He walked off the mound with a confidence that we hadn't seen all season. I know it is just one inning in a little league baseball game, but I can't help but think that is something that is going to stick with him for a long time. No matter what happens the rest of the season, that is probably going to be the best experience for me as a coach this year. As a dad, I'll remember all the stuff that my boys have done, but as a coach, seeing T.J. get up there and do what he did will definitely be the high point! Way to go, T.J.!!


 
 
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If you are a baseball fan, you understand that there are countless "baseball codes" when it comes to playing the game. Some are based on superstitions (which ballplayers seem to live by). Some are based on respect and self-policing. Examples like don't talk to a pitcher if he has a perfect game going. Don't stand at home plate and admire your homerun or you can expect to get nailed by the pitcher the next time you are at the plate. If your top player gets hit by a pitch, your pitcher hits the opposing team's top player. And on and on it goes.
     Last night, Cole Hamels threw a 93mph fastball right at 19 year-old Bryce Harper during his first at-bat. Hamels said it was just a part of "old school baseball." He didn't deny hitting him for a second. He was trying to make a point that the kid was still a rookie and that this is a man's game. Harper didn't charge the mound. Instead he hustled out a single by the next batter to make it to third and then proceeded to steal home. A nice bit of payback for the youngster. And yes, the next time Hamels was up to bat, the Nationals pitcher fulfilled his duty to protect his player and plucked him with a pitch.
     I'm a fan of baseball, and all that comes with it, but this "tradition" has got to stop. It's a terrible example for kids to see. And anytime you are throwing something 93mph with the intention of hitting someone, there is a serious chance for injury. What if Harper failed to turn completely and instead takes it on the arm. Broken arm. Lost games. Long-term problems. Who knows. I understand an older player getting frustrated at the stuff Harper has done in just a short time up in the majors. He's playing like a veteran. Getting solid hits. Hustling like nobody else out there. But to risk all of that future to prove a point is absurd. Hopefully MLB will send a serious message to Hamels, the other pitchers that are thinking about doing the same thing when they face Harper, and more importantly to the kids that watch these games and look up to these guys. They need to know that this isn't the way to go about the game. Call it old-school if you want, but I think it's time to forget about this right-of-passage and think about safety.

 
 
When your child is playing sports, your goal as a father should really be to try to make it as fun as possible. As they grow older, and the excitement of competition and striving to become better players sets in, your goal should still be to make sure they have as much fun as possible, and leave the rest to the coach.

It’s hard for any parent to sit back and watch while another adult is trying to teach their son or daughter how to do something. That goes for all sorts of things, not just sports. When you add in the pressure of where the child is playing in the field, batting in the lineup, or taking their turn sitting on the bench, parents often have a hard time keeping their mouth shut - or at least waiting until the right time and place to bring up their concerns with the coach. Having been on both the field and in the bleachers during games with my sons doesn’t necessarily make it any easier for me.

One of the most important things you can do for your child is to let them know that no matter what the situation is, you are on their side. You've got their backs covered at all times. They need to know that so they can come to you, let you know whats going on, what they did, or how they feel – and that isn’t limited to just baseball. They need to know that whatever happens to them, they can come to you for support and unconditional love. If they feel a coach, or teacher, or friend is giving them bad advice or making them feel inferior, you want them to be able to come to you.

With that being said, you as the parent (or the coach) need to know how and when to step-in and say something. We’ve all seen the stories on tv about the lunatic parent that gets into a fist fight with the coach on the field during a game only, to be hauled away by the police. This isn’t showing the child that they have their backs, rather it’s showing that maybe it is more about the parent than about the child.

So be sensitive to your child’s needs. Pay attention to what is going on in the field (or at school). Talk to them and let them know they can come to you anytime. It’s going to help them have more fun, and it could be the foundation for your relationship that makes it easier for them to come to you as they get older when the issues are bigger than sports.


 
 
Last night the Fort Lauderdale Little League Brewers carried their momentum from the end of the last game right into this one. Playing at an unfamiliar field with some pretty good rain coming down during the first inning, the boys did an amazing job staying focused and ready to play. Everyone out there had a great attitude and gave their best effort throughout the night.

We had some definite highlights that deserve mention. The bats were swinging with a couple of back-to-back home runs! Way to go guys! And certainly a highlight for the night was the incredible pitching performance where our pitchers combined for 12 strikeout game.

The game on Saturday will be against a tough team, but the work the Brewers have been putting in these past few weeks, with near perfect attendance for games/practices/clinics, should make this a great game you won't want to miss.

Keep up the good work guys!
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That's right. The first game for the Federal Park Little League Brewers is in the books. By all accounts, it was a total success even though the scoreboard said it ended in a tie. After a slow offensive start, the Brewers all started hitting the ball and made up the runs they had given up early on.

The effort of the boys was incredible, as well as the amount of improvement each player has made in just a few weeks of practice. For many of the guys, it was their first time hitting with another kid pitching to them. No doubt it can be a little scary, but the boys found a groove and everyone did a great job.

I would be remiss to mention how proud I am of my website co-creators, Austin and T Matsoff. Austin was given the role of starting pitcher in his debut and took the mound with pride and confidence. He had three key strikeouts to go along with a huge triple (which was actually his first hit ever!). His little brother T got called in as his relief pitcher. T was also making his pitching debut and he made the most of the opportunity. When you talk to him he may seem a little quiet, but hand him the ball and his arm can do some serious talking for him! He managed to strike out the side his first inning, and K'd two more in his second. The other team had the winning run on second base and T managed to strike the next batter out to end the game. He also helped the team out with a single and a double in his first game going against a kid-pitcher.

We are hoping that as the games continue we will have some photos of all the Brewers in action. If you have any, please send them to us at strikezonemag@yahoo.com.

Game 2 on Tuesday night. Go Brewers!

 
 
Sometimes that could be a good thing to hear. Sometimes things are going so well, it seems like everything is working in your favor. Well if you are a Marlins fan, seeing the rash of injuries that has plagued the team this season, that rain seems like a typical South Florida hurricane.

The latest storm came through with Josh Johnson shutting down his season early with a sore back and shoulder. At times throughout the season, J.J. was on the fast track to Cy Young accolades. He was rolling along with the lowest ERA in the business. He tweaked his back in early August and that was the beginning of the end for him (along with the playoff hopes of the Marlins organization).

Here is a quick run-down of the other players that have had their seasons cut short: (Some injured. Some traded. Some just stupid)

Ricky Nolasco - Knee injury
Jorge Cantu - Traded
Cody Ross - Traded
John Baker - Elbow injury
Ronnie Paulino - Stupidity (suspended 50 games for violating leagues performance enhancing drug policy by taking a "diet Pill")
Brett Hayes - Separated shoulder

That is a serious list of players down for the count. Time to take a deep breath and just wait for the season to be over. Things have got to get better next year!

 
 
Depending on what part of the country you live in, summer has probably ended and school is just getting started. When you live down here in Fort Lauderdale that means a few things: 1. We may just start seeing temperatures in the '80s again soon. 2. Traffic is about to get really bad with all of the snow-birds getting back into town and 3. Fall Ball is just around the corner!

Fall Ball is a little different than playing in the Spring. At least that's what I'm hearing from some of the other parents that have been through this season before. Supposedly it is a little more relaxed, which I'm glad about. My oldest son's first season was a great learning experience, but as he came in at 9 years old, he was playing against a lot of kids that had been playing baseball for years already. He never complained, and during the season (and every day for the rest of the summer) he worked hard with his younger brother to get better. So I'm excited that he is going to get to play again soon, now that his confidence is up. I'm also excited because with my boys 18 months apart, they were going to be playing in different leagues until they get to high school. But with Fall Ball, it's a little different. Because there aren't as many kids playing, the age divisions get changed around and that means that they are going to get to play on the same team.

It's great for my wife and I  because now we only need to worry about one team's practices and games. I think what is even better than that is the fact that when I told the boys they were going to have a chance to play on the same team they were both really excited. After all, they have been playing catch together just about everyday, rain or shine. When they aren't playing catch, they are studying baseball cards together, or watching baseball games, or playing  baseball on the Wii. To have the opportunity to play together this season is a huge treat. For them and for us.
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If you've been a fan of baseball for awhile, or sports for that matter, you come to figure that there are clearly some rules that are unwritten but are usually very well understood by both the fans and the players.  Early in the summer, my boys and I read "The Baseball Codes," that goes into great detail about some of these sorts of things, among them retaliation.

I bring this up today because during last night's game between the Marlins and the Nationals, this code came into play not once, but twice. For a little background, on Tuesday night, the National's freak-of-the-week and all around trouble maker, Nyjer Morgan, took out Marlin's catcher Brett Hayes in what could've been described as just a good, hard-nosed play. That is if it were just about anyone else. In the past week, Morgan had taken out another catcher in a dirty play, threw a ball at a fan's face and was seen on video yelling at a Marlin's fan.

So last night, in what is clearly part of the "baseball code," Marlin's pitcher Chris Volstad defended his catcher by placing a pitch right onto Morgan's hip. Morgan took his base and went on to steal both second and third bases, even though his team was down by 11 runs. Evidently, Volstad wasn't too happy about it, so when Morgan came back up in the sixth he threw another pitch at him except this one didn't connect - it went BEHIND Morgan's back. Well that was enough to throw Morgan into a tizzy and charge the mound in what became a bench-clearing brawl with Marlin's first baseman, Gaby Sanchez getting in one of the best "clotheslines" on Morgan I've seen since watching Hulk Hogan back in the 80's.

My thought on this, though, is that it shouldn't have happened at all. Volstad was "justified" in hitting Morgan once. But that is where I think it should've stopped. You just don't get to go for two in that scenario. Given Morgan's already ugly week, he will be getting most of the press for what transpired, but I don't think Volstad should be let off the hook completely. An eye for an eye. One for one. No double-dipping allowed.
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Growing up watching baseball in the 70's & 80's, I think being a fan was a lot easier than it is today. As a kid, I used to follow the Milwaukee Brewers. But even more than that, I was rooting for the guys that were there year in and year out. Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Cecil Cooper, Gorman Thomas, Sal Bando to name just a few. It got to where you could watch those guys, know the lineup, see them at various autograph signings or personal appearances each season. Definitely not the way it is today.

As I mentioned yesterday, the Marlins let Cody Ross go to the Giants. For my kids, this was a huge bummer and sort of hard for them to understand. They've watched him over the last couple years. They've also had a few opportunities to meet him and every time he has been a great example of generosity and kindness. Just the kind of player you want representing your team in the community. So when you try to explain to the kids that the Marlins decided to let him go in an effort to save a few bucks they didn't quite get it. This came just a month after they let another great guy in Jorge Cantu, who had been one of the top players all season long, go for a minor league pitcher.

"It's a business, guys. Nothing personal." Except that to the young fans out there, it is personal. Sad to see a guy like Cody get away. We only wish the best for him and his family on this new chapter in his baseball career. We appreciate what he did for the Marlins, and for the example he set for my boys on how to behave even when you are a big-time baseball player. Thanks, Cody.