Talking Baseball

DTW was approached recently with the perfect Valentine’s Day gift…(for you, not her).

Ed Randall is a long time Yankees (booooooo) sportswriter and reporter.  He writes a popular baseball blog called Talking Baseball.  During his time he’s interviewed a bevy of baseball personalities, including quite a few Tigers (yaaaaaaaaaaay).  Recently, he put his interviews onto DVDs and the guys from Talking Baseball are offering a Tigers DVD which includes lengthy interviews with Sparky Anderson, Travis Fryman, Jack Morris, and Ernie Harwell.  The DVDs are priced at $15, but if you’ll enter in TBCODEDT as your discount code, they are yours for the low price of $9.99.  Not to mention that 10% of the purchase goes to the reimburse billfer for hosting costs fund.  Order here.

Talking Baseball has offered to send us a free set for our perusal, so if someone out there will commit to watching all of them in earnest and writing a review of each interview for the blog, I’ll ask them to send it to you.  First one to post interest in the comments sections wins.  I’ll email you offline.

I’ve seen the Ernie Harwell interview, and it’s worth the price of admission on its own.  At one point in the interview Ernie talks about the importance of dead air.  I love the sounds of the ballpark in the background and no one was better than Ernie at letting those sounds paint the picture for us listeners.  So great to hear his voice.

We’re also going to reach out to Ed before the first Yankees series for some inside info on the competition.  So check out the links and then leave a hint inside your wife’s copy of Good Housekeeping or Popular Mechanics.  Only 11 shopping days left.

Whitecaps Interviews

For those unfamiliar with the Midwest League playoff race, the Whitecaps are neck and neck with Fort Wayne for the final playoff spot in the league. West Michigan and Fort Wayne shared an equal second-half record going into play on Saturday. That meant that the two teams squared off for a dramatic three-game series with the winner advancing to the post season and the loser packing it up for the year. After a season of evaluating box scores from afar, I decided to make the trip to Grand Rapids to see the Whitecaps battle it out.

On Saturday, West Michigan sent RHP Brian Stroud to the mound. The recently promoted 22-year-old looked strong over 6 innings as he held Fort Wayne to 2 unearned runs. Unfortunately, reliever Patrick Cooper couldn’t keep the Fort Wayne TinCaps at bay and allowed 4 ER in an inning of work while taking the loss.

Clay Jones (DH) provided offensive spark and went 3-4 from the plate. Castellanos was 2-5 with an RBI and Hernan Perez (SS) was 1-4. The Whitecaps trailed most of the game, but staged a valiant comeback with 3 runs in the bottom of the 8th. They fell a run short as Nick Castellanos was called for catcher inference erasing Hernan Perez who was attempting to steal second for the final out of the game.

Prior to the game, I had an opportunity to talk with three top prospects at the A level: Nick Castellanos, Hernan Perez, and Kevin Eichhorn. Before I get to the interviews, I want to thank Ben Chiswick, director of media affairs and play-by-play man for the Whitecaps, and also, of course, the players who allowed me to talk with them in the heat of a playoff race. Finally, I’d like to thank Alex Burgos who lent his time and translated during my interview with Hernan Perez.

Nick Castellanos – 3B, 6’4’’ 195 lbs.

The 19-year-old righty was the 44th overall pick in the 2010 draft and spent that year in the Gulf Coast League. He has played at West Michigan for all of 2011 and has had a record-breaking season as his 158 hits represent the new franchise single-season record. He broke Robert Fick’s previous mark of 157. The third baseman has hit .313 and slugged .438 in 504 ABs.  Castellanos specifically did not want to address the record as he maintained his focus on the team’s critical three game series.

DTW: You’ve had a spectacular year, what have you learned in your first year at the A level?

Nick Castellanos (NC): How to be a professional on and off the field, how to be a good teammate, how to recognize certain situations.

DTW: Right now you’re involved in a three-game series which determines if you’ll make the playoffs, what kind of impact does that experience have on your development as a professional ballplayer?

NC: This is going to be the first playoff-type experience I’ll have as a pro baseball player, so I’m excited.

DTW: Jim Leyland constantly mentions that each game is just another game and stresses treating them similarly. Do you think that’s applicable or are you guys fired up over this series?

NC: Actually everyone’s pretty relaxed, you know, like Leyland said, it is another game. You can’t really go in amped up because it is just another game.

DTW: Your strikeout to walk ratio is a little bit high, is there anything you’re going to work on in the offseason to work on it?

NC: It’s not something that I’m going to stress out about. I’m still going to go up there looking to hit. It’s probably something that is going to happen as I develop as a player.

DTW: What is the main thing you want to work on this offseason?

NC: I want to work on everything.

DTW: What is your favorite aspect of your game?

NC: Hitting.

Hernan Perez – 2B, 6’0’’ 160 lbs.

Perez was signed as a non-drafted free agent in July, 2007. Since then, he has spent time in the VSL, BCL, and Lakeland. In 2010, he was promoted to West Michigan and has played there for the last 2 seasons. In his first three years of professional baseball, he hit .226, .239, and .235. This year, however, he has hit .259, including .306 in the first half. As a result, he was named a mid-season all-star. The speedy second-basemen has stolen 23 bases in 29 attempts.

DTW: The minor leagues is about individual development, but what does it mean to you to be playing in a three-game, do-or-die, series as part of this team?

Hernan Perez (HP): It’s definitely a team game, ultimately, but there’s no pressure right now I’m just doing all I can to help the team and hopefully we come out on top.

DTW: What did it mean to you to make the 2011 mid-season all-star team?

HP: I’m really proud of myself for making it. That’s always something that I’ve wanted to do. I give all the credit to my coaches for helping me prepare.

DTW: Your average is about 30 points higher than it’s been in the past. Is there anything you’re doing differently this year?

HP: Being more patient and only swinging at good pitches. Last year I didn’t really have an approach and swung at bad pitches.

DTW: What MLB player do you try to model yourself after?

HP: Robinson Cano

Kevin Eichhorn – RHP, 6’0’’ 175 lbs.

In 25 starts, covering 152 innings,  Eichhorn is 11-5 with a 3.61 ERA, 109 K’s, 33 BB’s and a .256 average against. He was acquired by the Tigers in January, 2011 from the Diamondbacks in the Armando Gallaraga deal. He was originally picked in the 3rd round of the first-year player draft in 2008.

DTW: This is, by far, the most innings you’ve pitched as a professional. How’s your arm holding up?

Kevin Eichhorn (KE): It feels really good. I think this is double what I’ve thrown before.

DTW: What pitches do you feature in a typical start?

KE: Usually a 2-seam and 4-seam fastball, changeup, and curveball.

DTW: Will you try to add anything during the offseason or just work on the pitches you already have?

KE: I might try to add either a hard curveball or maybe a slider.

DTW: Your strikeout to walk ratio is terrific, but your average against is .256, it seems like you have great control but hitters are able to put the ball in play a little bit too much. Do you think that will improve as you move through the ranks and maybe get a little bit tougher defense behind you?

KE: I’ve had really good defense here. I just need to fine tune the strike zone, maybe throw the ball a little bit further off the plate. Try to get more bad swings. Just control the zone a little bit better.

DTW: Have you noticed any major differences between the two organizations (Arizona and Detroit)?

KE: A lot of the same stuff, different climates in spring training. Just getting to know the new guys. Everyone’s been real nice.

DTW: What does this series mean to you as a  Whitecap?

KE: I really want to win, our team always wants to win, so, we’re going for the whole thing and we’re going to try to put a beating on them and play hard.

DTW: What are you planning to do this offseason that isn’t baseball related?

KE: See the family, rest the arm a little bit. I like playing music.

DTW: What kind of music?

KE: Reggae and rock with my brothers and cousin.

Get to know…Amber Grand

The Tigers are 6-1 in 2009 when Amber Grand sings the National Anthem
The Tigers are 6-1 in 2009 when Amber Grand sings the National Anthem. Leyland is a fan.

On Sunday the Tigers went into the game mired in a 5 game losing streak. I jokingly (well, half jokingly anyways) mentioned that the Tigers would win because Amber Grand was singing the National Anthem. It seemed that the Tigers have had decent success with Grand on the microphone this season (yeah, I try and take it all in when I’m at the game). That was later confirmed when after Sunday’s game she had pushed her record to 6-1 in 2009.

Here at DTW we are big fans of Grand. She’s got a tremendous voice and a wining record this year and we’d like to see more of Grand belting out the National Anthem. This is meant as no disrespect to the other singers in the rotation who all do an excellent job (especially my friend Cliff Erickson who you can check out around the metro Detroit area). But we’re in a pennant race here people.

DTW: How long have you been doing the National Anthem at Tigers games? Do you know your overall record and is it in line with your 6-1 mark this year? Why have you been so effective in bringing the Tigers wins this year?
AG: This is my 9th season with the Tigers now.  I started right out of high school because Dan York who was one of the in house announcers also announced for my hometown’s high school sporting events which I also sang the anthem for.  He gave the Tigers one of my basketball game tapes, and the rest is history.

To be honest, I don’t know my record, my dad keeps a good eye on it, so I do know that it’s normally pretty good and not too far off from this seasons, give or take a few. I don’t know why I’ve been so effective in bringing in wins this year, Jim Leyland has come up to me a few times though and told me he really enjoys when I sing…it’s probably just luck, but wouldn’t that be great if it wasn’t?  LoL!

DTW: Do you sing the Anthem for any other teams? Do you have any other singing endeavors or are Tigers games your main gigs?
Grand aspires to be like Karen Newman (that's Grand in the picture, not Newman)
Grand aspires to be like Karen Newman (that's Grand in the picture, not Newman)
AG: I have done the Anthem for The Wings and Lions as well, but my home base is definitely with the Tigers.  Other than sporting gigs, I sing for my hometown city in support of Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and the Christmas tree lighting ceremony.  I also sing at weddings and other events when asked.
DTW: What do you do when you’re not singing the National Anthem?
AG: I am in my last year at University of Michigan Dearborn studying Elementary Education.  I also work as a server/bartender at Chelis Chili Bar.  I’ve been there since we’ve been open (6 yrs now) and absolutely love Chris and everyone I work with.  Chris has helped in getting me a few of my singing gigs too.
DTW: How about that Michigan-Notre Dame game?
AG: Oh Boy!  You asked!  I’m Michigan all the way, but I’m from and Irish Catholic Family whose love runs deep for those Irish.  We survived the game through our love for one another…it wasn’t easy, I was there and had 10th row seats.  It was a great game… and their broken hearts will mend right around January I’m sure!
DTW: Who’s your Tiger?
AG: Curtis Granderson all the way…I do love them all though!
DTW: Are the Tigers making the playoffs this year and if they do how far are they going to go?
AG: The Tigers are definitely making the playoffs this year, and they’re going ALL the way.  Are you crazy asking me that question?   This is our year baby!
DTW: Sparky Anderson or Jim Leyland?
AG: I have the utmost respect for Sparky…but I think Jim Leyland is amazing.  I just love him!
DTW: Karen Newman became a local celebrity singing the National Anthem for Red Wings games. Do you have dreams of hearing “…the Tigers own Amber Grand” before every home game?
AG: That is my main goal.  I’ve been at this for 9 years now, I love Karen…I’ve actually sang with her before at a Dearborn Fundraiser with the Red Wings and firefighters.  She did the Anthem, I did the Canadian.  She is so nice and it was so fun.  I would love to follow in her footsteps for the Tigers.  All they have to do is ask!

Get to know James Robbins

On the deadline to sign this year’s draft picks, the Tigers got a lot of attention for signing Jacob Turner, Andrew Oliver, and Daniel Fields. That same day they also inked their 30th round pick, lefty hitting first baseman James Robbins from Shorecrest High School in Washington. The signing flew a little under the radar, but Robbins is the first of the 4 to see game action and he homered in his first 2 games for the GCL Tigers and his pro career is off to a great start. Robbins was kind enough to answer some questions for DTW.

DTW: You signed pretty much at the deadline. Can you tell us a little about the negotiations, were you in continual contact with the Tigers or did things pick up quickly at the end?
JR: I never really had continual contact with the Tigers. Negotiations picked up the last few days right before the deadline. So it ended up being last minute.
DTW: You had a commitment to WSU. What was the biggest factor in your decision to sign with the Tigers and was Miguel Cabrera’s long term deal and the fact he plays first base a factor at all, or do the Tigers have plans for other positions for you?
JR: I can’t say it had a major factor in my decision other than I just wanted to play baseball. It’s been a dream of mine and I wanted to pursue it. Cabrera’s deal didn’t play into my choice at all. And as far as other positions I have thrown a few bullpens but not sure what will come from it.
DTW: You’re on the opposite corner of the country from your home, what’s that adjustment been like?
JR: The adjustment for me has been fairly easy. The first few days were a big change for me but after that everything has gone smoothly. Everyone has been great to me and its making for an easy transition.
DTW: You’ve gotten off to a very quick start for the GCL Tigers including homers in your first 2 games. Can you take us through your first professional homer? What was the situation, what was the pitch, and did you know it was gone off the bat?
JR: My first home run was exciting for me. Right off the bat I didn’t think it was gone. There were two guys on, second and third, and I was just trying to find a way to get them in. The pitcher threw me a fastball, and when I hit it I thought it going to be a sac fly, but ended up going out.
DTW: Has the organization set an offseason training regimen for you, I’m assuming that you’ll stick around for the Instructional League but what’s after that?
JR: As far as the offseason I’m not sure what I’ll be doing. They haven’t given me anything yet as far as a training regimen. But I will be back for Instructional League.
DTW: What are your first impressions of the Tiger Town complex in Lakeland?
JR: My first impressions have been great, I’m really enjoying myself. All the facilities are nice and its just a great complex to play at.
DTW: Now for some light stuff. What’s your favorite band/tv show/movie? And in terms of uniforms, do you prefer high socks or the pants pulled down to the ankles? A straight bill on the cap or curved?
JR: I can’t say that I have a favorite band, tv show or movie. But I listen to a variety of music, watch anything sports on tv and for a movie, the hockey movie Miracle. As far as the uniform I’m old school, I like the high socks and stirrups they have us wear for the Tigers. And I like my hat to have a little curve to it.

I’d like to thank James for taking the time to talk with DTW and wish him continued success in his pro career.

Get to know Adam Wilk

Adam Wilk was Detroit’s 11th round pick from the 2009 draft. The left handed junior from Long Beach State was assigned to Oneonta where he fanned 34 and walked 5 in 37.1 innings spanning 7 starts. When Mauricio Robles was traded Wilk was part of the domino of promotions and he was bumped to West Michigan where he hasn’t missed a beat posting the same gaudy peripherals in his first 3 starts for the Whitecaps. Wilk was kind enough to answer some questions for DTW.

Adam Wilk pitches for the Whitecaps. cr Wendy Smith
Adam Wilk pitches for the Whitecaps. cr Wendy Smith
DTW: You signed quickly. How important was it for you to start playing right away?
AW: Thats right. I signed only a few days after the draft and was flying to Oneonta the next morning. It was very important for me to start right away. My college team did not make the playoffs so I had not been playing competitively since late May. I had been able to play catch and throw bullpens, but there was no competitive play. I was also very excited to get out and start my professional career.
DTW: What’s your scouting report, what do you throw?
AW: I throw a five pitch mix. 4-seam fastball and 2-seam fastball, the curveball, changeup, and cut-fastball.
DTW: What has been the biggest adjustment to professional baseball?
AW: The biggest adjustment so far in professional baseball is playing everyday. In college we have games 4 days a week, practice the other 2, and then were required to have 1 day off of no baseball activity. That was a big day to relax and for me go to the beach and recuperate my body each week. But in professional baseball I am playing everyday, and starting every 5th day, rather than every 7th day in college. Another great thing though is that playing everyday allows you to get right back after it if the next day if your previous day was bad, rather than waiting sometimes one or two days like you had to in college.
DTW: You mentioned in a interview right after the draft that you were interested in building strength to gain velocity. Does the organization have you on a program yet or is that more a task for the offseason.
AW: Right now we are on a strength maintenance program. They want us to maintain our strength during the season therefore we have tailored lifts to do that. Once we are in the offseason is when we have our strength building program to put on muscle and weight.
DTW: In your first 10 starts you’ve dominated despite being bumped up to West Michigan. What’s been the key to your early success?
AW: The biggest thing for me being a left-handed pitcher that does not have really overpowering stuff is to keep the ball down. Pitching down is the key for all pitchers but especially for pitchers who don’t throw extremely hard it takes keeping the ball down very consistently to be successful. The other big thing to my success so far is throwing strikes. Strikes early in the count and many strikes gives me the advantage over the hitter when they are consistently in the hole, rather than me having to pitch in hitter’s counts.
DTW: Is there another professional pitcher that you’ve modeled yourself after.
AW: I love watching left handed pitchers. I feel that I can pick something up from many of them by just watching how they pitch. There are a few left handers though that I have watched a lot while growing up. I always went to Angel games when Jarrod Washburn pitched because the stadium was very close to where I lived. I watched Tom Glavine many times, Andy Pettite, Mark Mulder, and Jamie Moyer are just a few to name. But I always watch left handed pitchers.

Thanks to Adam for taking the time and here’s hoping for his continued success as he progresses through the Tigers system.

My night with Fox Sports Detroit – continued

Editors note: This is a continuation of an earlier post. On Friday, July 10th I spent the night with the FS Detroit production crew. All the pregame preparations are done at this point, and it is just minutes before 7:00.

It is about 3 minutes before the the 7 p.m. start of the broadcast and producer Mark Iacofano is soaking up a little bit of fresh air. His chair in the truck is occupied by Chris Wasielewski who is wrapping up the Tigers Live pregame show.

As soon as the clock hits 7:00 the opening title sequence that was prepared 2 hours earlier hits the monitors. When I last saw it there was a nice video montage with the signature Fox Sports music. This time play-by-play announcer Mario Impemba provided the narration that was absent before. And with that we were underway.

My setup was pretty sweet. My home for the next couple hours was right in the middle of the truck. The main production suite was to the left of me and tape-land was to the right. I was also right by the A/C so I was nice and comfortable. I had the desk space that is occupied by the visiting producer when the truck is being shared. Cleveland games are broadcast on Sports Time Ohio and they have their own facilities. I had room to plug-in my laptop, a headset so I could listen to Iacofano and director Brian Maas, and a hook-up to the wireless router in the truck.

The first thing that I observed from having the headset on is that I had no idea what was going on. There was a lot of dialogue and it was all coming very quickly. Every time a camera is switched, that is called by the director. Every time a graphic goes up, that’s another instruction, and those graphics come down as well which means another instruction. Next time you tune into a game take out a blank piece of paper and grab a pencil. Every time something changes on the screen (graphics, replays, camera changes) make a hash mark. At the end of the half inning count up those marks and you’ll get a flavor for how many commands are coming just from the director.

In addition to trying to provide all the visuals, the truck is also responsible for timing the start correctly. It would be nice if the pitcher emerged from the dugout at 7:04, but that’s not always the case. On this particular night Edwin Jackson was running a couple minutes late. The broadcast was back from break, but Jackson wasn’t on the mound yet meaning they couldn’t pop up Jackson’s season numbers on the screen and Allen couldn’t read through them. So Iacofano decides to do the Arby’s spot. He tells Impemba and the Arby’s 3 homer graphic comes up on the screen. While Impemba describes the promotion Maas sees the players taking the field so they cut to that shot and get rid of the Arby’s splash. To the viewer it is seamless. In the truck 35 things just happened on the fly in the last 2 minutes.

Before it even seemed like the game had started, the top half of the first was done as Jackson pitched a 1-2-3 inning. With 2 outs Iacofano is at the ready, and with 2 strikes he’s really ready knowing that the next pitch could end the inning. Ready for what you ask? They need to throw up the score, next batters up, fade to commercial, cut the microphones, and count it down to master control.

Master control is located in Houston and serves kind of as mission control for all Fox Sports broadcasts on a given night. They run the commercials so every break is counted in and out with master control. Occasionally during an inning (a couple times per game usually), master control will ask permission for “a squeeze.” What they are asking for is permission to run the the Fox Sports ticker across the bottom.

Replays that are being captured and logged for later use The bottom of the first inning was uneventful but it gave me a little more time to be less overwhelmed. As I find my groove listening to the headset traffic and trying to take in 8 monitors there is a near collision between Josh Anderson and Magglio Ordonez in right center. This prompts a series of replays as the guys in tape-land just continue to churn through every camera shot looking for things that might have been missed. Plays like the Ordonez/Anderson one get logged in for later use. It’s only the second inning so it’s hard to say what might be important or develop into a story line during the game. Anderson getting a rare start in centerfield and struggling might be something to keep an eye on.

The other thing that this play spurs is a bunch of commentary from the truck about what had just transpired. These guys (and gals) had been all business, but with that play they started to talk like fans, analyzing who’s ball it was and what went almost wrong. This caught me by surprise, and I’m not sure why. I had wrongly assumed that while I was sure these people liked their jobs and baseball, I didn’t expect them to be such fans. The truck would make the same comments many of us would make while sitting and watching the game with friends.

The Tigers break through for some runs in the bottom of the 2nd inning. After back to back singles from Inge and Ordonez Gerald Laird lifts a ball down the right field line. When the ball leaves the bat Maas sees the reaction of the fielders and calls out the appropriate camera. Ryan Garko feebly dives for the ball, and before he even has stopped skidding on his stomach Maas has shouted out “we got that on X-mo” (x-mo is the super slow motion camera usually positioned in the visitors dugout, today it is above third base in the concourse).  Another flurry of replays comes and it is capped off with the perfectly captured X-Mo shot.

I spoke already of the director setting up the broadcast with appropriate video.  While all those commands are flowing out, the director and producer are also listening to the announcers. They are listening both to the audio going over the air as well as talk-back that only goes into their headsets. They have to match the pictures to the stories or analysis provided by Rod Allen and Impemba.

But this isn’t a one way street either. There is a lot to see at a baseball game, and no one person can see it all. Rod and Mario can see the whole field, but can’t see everything happening. Sometimes the truck has a better view with a dozen cameras at their disposal and sometimes catch something that the announcers don’t, like a player in the dugout being tended to by trainer Kevin Rand (like he was taking care of Miguel Cabrera on this night).

There is a tremendous amount of collaboration that takes place with everyone looking to provide the most information to the viewer. During my earlier tour with Iacofano we discussed this collaboration. We talked about a game 2 years ago when the Fox Sports did an isolation on Travis Hafner being too deep in the box. It was something that Allen had noticed and a point that Pudge Rodriguez argued a few pitches later. In that same game Rod and Mario commented on how long Rafael Betancourt was taking between pitches. Next thing you know the truck had a shot of umpire Doug Eddings with a stop watch while Impemba was quoting the rule. These things seem trivial at home, but in the context of everything going on they are remarkable.

Iacofano talked about how Kirk Gibson time after time would pick up on a pitcher tipping pitches – and he’d do it from the booth. They’d go in tight from centerfield and he’d be right time and time again. Announcers can say “dumb things” from time to time, but really, it isn’t as simple as just talking about sports. You have a producer or director in your ear. You’re watching everything, and you’re talking for 3 hours straight. This isn’t a simple task.

And speaking of the producer, he is telling a story himself, and a story with constraints. So much of what comes is completely subtle you’d never notice it. When the Indians got their first hit in the 4th inning the Fox Box switches to the Runs-Hits-Errors scoreboard. When Josh Anderson was rubbing the baseball sized (and marked) welt on his tricep out on second base, it was the perfect time to run a promotion for the Detroit Medical Center.

fsd 008 Speaking of sponsored elements, there are a lot in a game. They all get fit in somehow. Some have set spots, like the Aflac Trivia question (prompted by “cue the duck’”). Others are more dynamic. One of the more popular ones is the Belle Tire Pitch-by-Pitch. It is a matter of looking for the perfect moment to break it out, and sometimes that perfect moment takes a few tries:

  • 5th inning, Miguel Cabrera: Cabrera was up with runners on 1st and 2nd and everything was cued up for a pitch-by-pitch. A 2 pitch ground out wasn’t what they were looking for though.
  • The same drill and same inning only with Marcus Thames this time. A strikeout wasn’t the feel good story that the crew wanted.
  • Shin Soo Choo had walked his first time up. A 3 pitch ground out didn’t really fit the script though.
  • Grady Sizemore came up in the 8th and time was running out but he only saw 2 pitches.
  • Choo was up also in the 8th. This time with 2 runners on and Bobby Seay comes into face him. Seay fans him on 4 pitches and that is the moment worthy of a pitch-by-pitch

If it sounds like I’m a little in awe, it’s because I am. This was a relatively clean and crisp game and broadcast. This crew does almost 150 a year. The baseball season really is a grind, and it goes on for 6 months. And maybe it was the off-day the day before, or the thought of the All Star break coming up, but things stayed light the whole time. After a George Kell package ran, Iacofano produced the rest of the half inning with a rather poor imitation of Kell’s Swifton, Arkansas bred drawl.

After a tenuous non-save situation outing from Fernando Rodney the broadcast was done. Wasieliewski jumps back in the producer chair as the postgame show hits the air. In another 60 to 90 minutes everybody will be on their way home, after spending 10 hours at the stadium.

Talking injuries with Will Carroll

Will Carroll is a sports injury guru. He’s been writing the Under The Knife column for Baseball Prospectus for many years, and also compiles the annual Team Health Reports for BP as well. Carroll also authored Saving the Pitcher, a detailed look at pitching injuries, the primary factors for injuries, and strategies to prevent them.

Carroll was kind enough to answer a few questions over email.

DTW: Jeremy Bonderman has experienced elbow pain in two of the last three years. Is this a product of the high proportion of sliders he throws, or is it simply a matter of a young pitcher with quite a few innings on his arm? Could an increased reliance on the change up help him from an injury standpoint?
WC: I think it’s more the latter, which is the more disappointing result. Bonderman has been handled very carefully and smartly, but he’s young and used heavily. (Not abused, just used.) If it’s just inevitable that a heavily used youngster who’s not a freak will break down, well, at least we’ll know.

As for the changeup, no, not really. Glenn Fleisig is the expert here and his research has shown that all pitches thrown well have a smaller than expected difference in force.

DTW: Fernando Rodney has had TJ surgery in his past, and now several bouts of tendinitis. Last year he was basically an every-other-month pitcher and things aren’t starting off well in 2008. Do you see him ever throwing a complete season again?
WC: No, the wear and tear is simply too much. I don’t think he’s ever really been healthy, which is pretty amazing considering how effective he’s been in spurts.
DTW: If you were in charge of pitching in the Tigers farm system, how would you set Rick Porcello’s workload limit?
WC: I wouldn’t limit him.

Ok, that’s a bit dramatic. I did an article at BP a couple years ago which I think is one of the most important I’ve done. (That’s not setting the bar very high.)
I think some type of logical, progressive approach is the future. Some organization is going to do it — and I’m not saying my idea is right, though I think it’s close — and they’re going to be way, way ahead of the game because not only will they know what their pitchers can do, they’ll know how they can use them best.

DTW: When making the decision to go the rest/rehab route or go right to surgery, do different teams have different tendencies? If so how much is dictated by the front office versus the team medical staff versus the specialist (Andrews/Yokum types)?
No, not really. Almost all teams will try to avoid surgery, which is smart. Sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t. I think some are starting to take a look at the times when surgery is probably the best possible result, but it’s all about the timing. The Curt Schilling situation is one of the toughest ones, where disagreement and varying timing and biases all end up with the player’s career caught in the middle.
DTW: Have you seen any teams make a concerted effort to focus on the mental aspect of the game by bringing psychologists on to the medical staff?
Several. Not only teams, but agencies. I think the Indians are at the forefront, but there’s a lot of teams that have been doing this quietly.
DTW: I know we’re working with little comparative data here, but give me your odds on Joel Zumaya ever being able to throw 100mph again?
WC: You know, I actually talked to Brian Griese who had similar surgery about this and he thinks it will take Zumaya a full year, but if his mechanics stay sound, Griese thought he could get back to full strength. Take that for what it’s worth.

Thanks to Will for taking the time chat with us. You can find the Tigers Team Health Report at BP.

Talking Tigers prospects with Jonathan Mayo

Jonathan Mayo covers the minor leagues and the draft as a senior writer for Mayo also has a book coming out that has some remarkable timing. It is a look at what it is like to face Roger Clemens and is appropriately titled Facing Clemens. The book was written and put to bed prior to the release of the Mitchell Report and will be available on March 1st, though you can pre-order it now.

Regardless of your feelings about Clemens, steroid users, and their place in history, the book looks to be a fascinating read. Mayo interviewed many of the great hitters about what it was like to dig in with Clemens on the mound. Whether or not Clemens did it naturally doesn’t change what the batters experienced when squaring off against the Rocket.

Mayo was kind enough to answer some questions about the now-depleted Tigers farm system as well as a look forward to the 2008 draft.

Detroit Tigers Weblog: After the trades this off-season, the Tigers seem to be deepest in the middle infield. Of Scott Sizemore, Mike Hollimon, Danny Worth, Cale Iorg, Tony Giarratano, and Audy Ciriaco who do you see having the highest ceiling, and who is most likely to make it to the majors?
Jonathan Mayo: From a pure upside standpoint, I think Ciriaco is still the guy. I know he only hit .224 in his full-season debut, but he’ll still be just 20 when the season starts. I think he has to start taking the raw tools and turn it into performance this year. As for “most likely to succeed,” I’d probably go with Worth or Hollimon at this point. I’ve seen Hollimon play several times and he just looks like a big leaguer to me. He also has the best bat of this group as of right now. Those kinds of offensive skills will play at 2B in the bigs. Worth, even though he hit when he got pushed up to Erie, will be a big leaguer more because of his glove. How much he can hit will determine whether he’s an every-day shortstop or a utility guy.

Continue reading Talking Tigers prospects with Jonathan Mayo

Interviewing Curtis Granderson

Detroit Tiger Curtis Granderson
Curtis Granderson had a heck of a 2007. He made baseball history accumulating 20 doubles, triples, homers, and stolen bases and becoming one of only 5 players to ever accomplish the feat. He had what was rated in many circles the defensive play of the year when he reached over the left-center field wall to pull back a Wily Mo Pena homer. He was a television analyst for two networks during the post-season. When all his work was done he served as an MLB ambassador in South Africa. Now he’s getting ready for the First Annual Curtis Granderson Celebrity Basketball Game to benefit the Grand Kids Foundation. Given his whirlwind tour I’m very appreciative that Granderson would take the time for an email interview with the Detroit Tigers Weblog.

Detroit Tigers Weblog: First off, congratulations on a tremendous, MVP-candidate type season. Do you have any personal goals for the 2008 season? The quad-25 perhaps?
Curtis Granderson: Thanks. For me personally, I never really have statistical goals before any season, because they can be looked at in so many different ways. I like to focus on improvements and percentages: hit lefties better, increase my walk to strike-out ratios, and fewer errors in the outfield. I also like goals such as: compete everyday, HAVE FUN!!!, KEEP IT FUN!!!, and continue to learn everyday.

Continue reading Interviewing Curtis Granderson

Interview: Tigers TV color commentator Rod Allen

Rod Allen has had a very varied 30 year career in professional baseball. His current gig is as the color commentator for Tigers broadcasts on FSN alongside Mario Impemba.

The 2007 season will mark Allen’s 5th season in Detroit. While he, along with pretty much everyone associated with the Detroit Tigers, toiled in relative obscurity the first few years, his calls during the 2006 season are now part of Tiger lore. The very genuine “CRAIG DID IT AGAIN” call after Monroe’s 9th inning homer in Yankee Stadium captured the emotion and excitement that all Tiger fans were experiencing at that time.

Rod was kind enough to do an interview with me over the phone. We talk about the 2006 and 2007 Tigers, Allen’s career, and I ask him “Who’s your Tiger?”

Continue reading Interview: Tigers TV color commentator Rod Allen

Catching up with Dan Dickerson

Detroit Tigers play-by-play announcer Dan Dickerson was kind enough to take a few minutes out of his much-shorter-than-normal offseason to chat with me. We discussed 2006, the Magglio Ordonez call, and the outlook for 2007.

DTW: 2006 was a special season for everyone involved with or rooting for the Detroit Tigers. Was the season more fun and/or satisfying for you as a lifelong fan of the team or as a member of the organization?
Dan: It’ll be hard to draw a line between the two. Obviously I am fan because I grew up a Tiger fan. I think it probably is the most satisfying because it is your job and you’ve been part of something that’s been a lot of fun, but without a lot of success. And then, if it wasn’t out of nowhere, then it was certainly unexpected tremendous success. So to be a part of the organization, to be a part of watching that team, it was incredibly satisfying and gratifying. It was a lot of fun to be a part of it.

It was amazing to me to see them go from a situation where over the previous two years you’d go into a series and think “they have a chance” to going into every game expecting them to win. And for that to transform that quickly was an incredible thing to watch.

Continue reading Catching up with Dan Dickerson

Interviewing Dan Dickerson – Part 2

Continuing the interview with Tiger play-by-play announcer Dan Dickerson.

Part 1

DTW: How much research are you doing before each game and where are you finding your information?
DD: I love to get my hands on as much information as I can. At heart I’m probably just a complete stathead. I think that’s probably one of the things that got me into the game was the numbers. I played stratomatic baseball as a kid, I think that probably helped cement my love for the game. I love the numbers, I love the stats. I know you can’t do too much of that on a broadcast, but I do think it helps you understand how to evaluate players, how to try and evaluate players anyways, how teams build their rosters.

I like to read as much as I can. I like to read opposing papers and try and get a weeks worth of clips or more, print them out, and try to get a feel for what that team is doing now. Most of the information would come from the internet. Newspapers, websites. The team websites have become more valuable because you get some good feature stories. There’s no end to the baseball websites. If you’d click on My Favorites you’d see quite a few baseball websites I go to. I don’t know if you go to Hardball Times, but I think that has really become an outstanding website.

You can never have enough, and the fascinating part is how does it all fit, and a lot of it doesn’t fit into a broadcast.

DTW: Is the Detroit Tigers Weblog on your list of favorites?
DD: It is
DTW: That’s good to hear
DD: I didn’t go to a lot of those websites because I didn’t really know if it was a lot of guys making comments, and some of those sites are guys just posting stuff that is idiotic stuff. But then I did see your website, and I saw some of the stuff you do. I like some of the historical stuff as well as current stuff.
DTW: What is a typical game day like for you during the season?
DD: If it’s home, usually I’d get down there before 2:30 and 3:00. I like getting down there early, and 3:00 is aout as late as I want to get there for a home game. The clubhouse opens at 3:30, and if you get there early then you’ve got an hour to set your computer up, and start thinking about what you’re going to do that night.

I head down to the clubhouse between 3:30 and 4:00, and work both clubhouses. That’s one of the things I got from Ernie, because as much as I like stats, Ernie was very much people oriented. I think in the early days he introduced me to a lot of the people he knew and opened some doors for me. Just to see him go down to the opposing clubhouse, if not everyday then at least every series. He’d pop his head in the manager’s office, sometimes just to say hi and move along. Other times he’d have a specific target in mind, and if he didn’t know him, he’d introduce himself, or if he did know him he’d just go in and chat. To me it’s just not that easy to walk into a strange clubhouse, introduce yourself, and launch into some specific questions about his career, but I try and make sure I do that.

So I go down show my face, and sometimes strike up a conversation. Sometimes you get on a topic you weren’t expecting, sometimes it’s personal stuff, sometimes it’s baseball stuff. I just think that is one of the most fun parts of the job is that you get to ask the people who know so much about the game. No matter how much you and I think we know, we’ll never know the game at the same level these guys do. They see things in a different way, and to be able to go in and talk to a Carlos Pena, a Craig Monroe, a Brandon Inge about something that happened. Maybe it was a mistake they made but I want to have it in my mind whether it was a mistake that could have been avoided, or something that happened that I didn’t see on the play. Sometimes you’ll find out stuff that you didn’t realize, like “I hitched on the throw because the second baseman wasn’t at the base” or “That ball caught the lip of the infield and shot up into my gut.” The things that aren’t obvious on a replay or aren’t obvious at the time. To me that’s the real value in getting to know these guys, is they’ll tell you things that help you understand what went on in a game or what is going on in their lives as they struggle through a 2-25 slump. To me that’s a lot of fun and I’ll stay down there until 5:00-5:30.

Then I’ll get back up and get the lineups and fill out the lineup card and scribble in some notes by each guy’s name if there is anything that seems like it might fit. I know it seems like the last 2 hours always zoom by. It’s funny, you start righting stuff down and think “what about this” so you look it up in the computer, or “what did he do last year,” just little things that might pop up as your writing down a guys name. I try to keep bios on each player and a print out of the opposing team. You just kind of see what ends up on your paper that day. You talk to opposing broadcasters and get their take on things. You have dinner and you’re ready to go at 7:00pm.

DTW: Your home run call, “Way Back and Gone!” was that something that you rehearsed or did it just evolve naturally?
DD: I think especially for the deep ones it seems to work. It just came out one day. One day I said “Long Gone” [Ernie Harwell’s trademark call] and I was so mortified I made sure I had a different way to say it. When it’s way back you want to give the impression that it’s not one scraping the fence, it just seemed to work one day. I don’t use it every time because not every homer is deep, but if it was a Carlos Pena homer from the second half, it was deserving of that.

I try to vary it, but I guess the more you do it, the more you realize that “Gone” works, like “Score” in hockey. You’re hitting it, you’re punching it, and giving it your signature with your voice and the way you say it. I think a lot of guys say it, and I try not to get too fancy with it. I’ll use different calls from time to time, but when people hear “Gone” they know what’s going on.

DTW: What’s been your most memorable call?
DD: I always think of the Brandon Inge versus Troy Percival[Sunday, August 23rd, 2003]call because it was 2003, and it was a 9 or 10 game losing streak. They had not scored on Troy Percival, only like 2 runs in his career so it was the ultimate mismatch. Bottom of the ninth, down by a run with a man on and Inge hit a home run to win the game. There weren’t many memorable moments that year, but I came out of my seat on that one. There was so much going wrong and for him to hit that home run it was a very joyous moment in a season that hadn’t had many.

A great moment is a great moment. That team was bad, having a terrible season but then they won 5 of 6 to end the season, they were down 8 runs that Saturday and won 9-8, those were great moments. It’s always good to remember that no matter the record a great moment is still a great moment.

DTW: What do you think of the team’s prospects heading into next year?
DD: That’s a great question, I was having lunch with Dan Petry and another guy from the Tigers and were chewing over a lot of the things that could happen. I don’t like the way the free agent signing period has started. I think everybody has to be taken aback by the prices, or maybe not, maybe Dave [Dombrowski] anticipated the prices for closers. It seems like you have to go to plan B where if you’re going to improve you have to do it through trade.

I still think you can build a bullpen at a relatively low cost, outside of a closer. If you look at the White Sox bullpen last year I think I read it was a $3 million dollar bullpen. The guys they had were good and at a relatively low cost.

You’ve got to shore up the rotation. You have to add a veteran arm, or two. I still think there are options out there like a Matt Morris or Paul Byrd. I don’t know what the Tigers think of those two, but at a relatively low cost, I don’t know what that is anymore, you could sign one of those two. Javier Vazquez name is being floated out there as a potential trade. Carl Pavano also, but I guess not as likely. But I think you need to add the veteran arm to the roation with Verlander coming in.

The bullpen still is a question mark but I think it can be built in a low cost way outside of a closer. I don’t know what they’ll do about closer, but I think it is a high priority. I do think you can acquire a starter or bullpen help in a trade. Obviously with Pena and Young both on the roster, there isn’t room for both in the lineup next year. It seems to me one of those could be possible trade bait if you’re willing to pick up some of Dmitri’s salary, or if a team is interested in Pena.

Pena is the real X factor, I think that is the biggest decision. You watch him hit the last two months and think, “Do I really want to get rid of this kind of left handed power?” On the other side he’s only done it for a couple months the last couple seasons in spurts.

I think Jim Leyland is going to have a major impact on this team. Listening to him in the press conference, he seemed to be really anxious to get back to managing and wipe out the short stint in Colorado. I think he wants to prove he still has the fire, and it sounds like it to me. Everything I’ve read about him from his past in Pittsburgh and Florida is that this is a guy who lets you know where you stand, and what the consequences are if you don’t perform the way he expects. Talking with Dan Petry, you want to play for this guy. You want to do your absolute best. This is a guy who knows how to get it out of you. I don’t know how that translates into in terms of wins, but I think he’ll have a major impact.

I’d like to thank Dan Dickerson for being so generous with his time. Dan will be cohosting the Tiger Town radio show with Dan Petry on WXYT1270. The next two editions will air December 8th and December 14th at 7:00pm.