Sunday, September 11, 2011

Like it was yesterday

I know this is by no means an original idea or concept, but 9/11 was my generation's Pearl Harbor and JFK Assassination. It's something we'll never forget. It's an event that we'll always remember where we were and what we were doing when it happened. A quick perusal of your friends on Facebook will probably prove that point. I'm no different. I really do remember it like it was yesterday.

I was in my first year of teaching at Mercer. I had been on the job for less than a month being the Social Studies department as well as coaching softball, junior high track and assistant basketball. My room was on the second floor right next door to the high school office. My first hour class was a Senior elective over the Vietnam War and there was only a handful of students enrolled in that semester-long class. We had finished up taking roll (not a difficult task in a school that small) and were chatting about what we had on the agenda that day and the next few. It was at this time that Mr. Hamilton, the high school principal, opened the door and peeked his head in. I had a satellite dish connection in my room so he told me to turn on my TV to one of the networks because a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. I remember all sorts of thoughts running through me head about how this could happen. Was the weather bad and the pilot had no visibility? Did the pilot have a medical emergency like a heart attack and lose control of the plane? Honestly, the idea of it being a terrorist attack never entered my mind. A few moments later, that thought was forced into all of our minds. As soon as we saw the second plane hit, I left my students for a second and ran next door into Mr. Hamilton's office. I don't know what he was doing, but he appeared somewhat busy. However, I blurted out something along the lines of "The second tower has just been hit!" I returned to my room a moment later and we all sat there with our jaws agape not believing what we were seeing.

The bell rang and my second class of the day came in. It was my 7th grade Geography class. They had just finished up PE and had no idea what was going on. I'll never forget a couple of the students coming in and asking what movie we were watching. I decided to wait until they all arrived to tell them what was going on so that I wouldn't have to explain it a dozen times. After I explained what was going, I had them all turn their desks to the back of the room and we watched TV. That's pretty much all we did in all our classes that day and the next. I told the kids that instead of us learning about history, we were going to watch it unfold. I know they were probably happy to not have to listen to me teach, but given the circumstances, I'm sure they would have rather it been on better terms.

One thing that kind of makes me embarrassed to admit now is what I was thinking when the first tower collapsed. I remember thinking to myself after it fell that it was kind of a bummer but they were probably going to have to tear it down anyway. It hadn't dawned on me yet that there were still so many people still trapped inside. It wasn't until one of the people on TV made mention of it that it hit me.

We also made the news on a smaller scale. Our administration decided to put the building (high school, junior high and elementary were all in the same building) on exterior lockdown. Classes would still go on, but all exterior doors would remain locked with nobody leaving and nobody coming in. This made the local radio news and also led to the administrators receiving some calls from concerned parents wondering if something was going on there. After an event like this, you never know if somebody that was mentally unstable would use this as an excuse or reason to do something stupid, so to hopefully prevent that from happening, we locked down. Fortunately, it never came to that, but better safe than sorry.

The attacks happended on a Tuesday which is a popular high school softball night for many teams. We were to travel to Pattonsburg for a softball doubleheader. Many games and activities in the area were cancelled, but both schools agreed to play the games as scheduled. This controversial decision created a bit of a firestorm for both of us. Administrators were of the mindset that terrorists want us to change the way we do things and get us out of our routines. We knew this was just a high school softball game, but we were going to play it because that's what we were supposed to do that night. We had a moment of silence before the games to honor the fallen and then played the games. Looking back now, I'm still glad we played that night. Not because we won, but because for just a few hours on that day, it wasn't on our minds and things kind of were normal.

That bus ride to Pattonsburg was something else I remember. People had starting speculating that gas prices were going to shoot through the roof. Gas back then was about $1.50/gallon and in some places were price-gouging was going on, it was going for $4-5/gallon and even higher elsewhere. Kids were concerned that the softball and basketball seasons were going to be called off because nobody could afford to travel to games. As we were driving through Princeton, cars were lined up around the corner at Snappy's, all trying to fill up their tanks before the impending price hike. Five hours later, we drove past Snappy's on our way home and the price hadn't move a penny.

You know, I can't remember what I had for dinner last night, but I remember so much about this one day ten years ago. It's amazing how an event like 9/11 can permanently etch itself into our minds for the rest of our lives. That's a good thing. It makes sure that we NEVER FORGET.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Commissioner Flip: 9 Things I’d do to fix baseball

This is part one of a four-part series entitled: "Commissioner Flip" in which I'll discuss things I'd do to make our four major team sports (baseball, basketball, football, hockey, not soccer) better.

Baseball, “America’s Pastime,” is one of the great institutions in our society. It’s a part of our lives whether we want it to be or not. Songs have been written and movies have been made about the game more so than any other sport. You can’t turn on the TV or look at magazines without seeing it’s players and managers in there somewhere. It’s so different from other sports that it has a charm all it’s own. It’s one of the few games where the defense has the ball and it’s played without a clock. It’s truly a great game. However, it’s not a perfect game, nor will it ever be a perfect game. It has it’s flaws and always will. However, as Commissioner, here’s nine things (one for every inning) that I’d do to make a great game even better. These are in no particular order:

1. Move up the deadline to sign drafted players- The MLB First-Year Player Draft was held over three days from June 6-8, 2011. Teams had until midnight ET August 15 to sign the players it drafted. As usual, most of the top picks didn’t sign until the very end of the signing period. The biggest holdups on the signings are due to players (more likely their agents) wanting more money and holding out trying to get a bigger deal. Those players basically wasted two months of their professional careers which can actually be more like a year. After signing in mid-August, they’ll be sent to rookie ball which is finishing up already, then head to something like the Arizona Fall League. The sooner you sign, the sooner you can begin your ascent up through the organization and make it to the Bigs. Move the deadline up from mid-August to mid-July, like July 11th, one week after Independence Day. This gives teams a month to try and sign the dozens of players they’ve drafted and once that’s done, they can turn their attention to the Trade Deadline of July 31st. This also gets draftees into organizations faster or let’s their colleges that might be counting on them know if they’re coming or not.

2. Expand the use of instant replay- I’ve already written about this and I’m not going to beat a dead horse, so if you want to know my thoughts on this, go check out the entry from July 30th: “After further review, baseball needs expanded replay policy.” (Yes, this is a shameless plug for people to read other posts if they haven't read them already.)

3. Make the All-Star Game an exhibition again and give home field advantage in the World Series to the team with the best record- See #2 and check out July 11th entry “All-Star Game: Exhibition or Competition?”

4. Schedule a minimum of two early games every day- Honestly, this is probably my favorite suggestion of the nine. I’m a baseball junkie and want to watch it as much as I can. One of my biggest annoyances is when I look at the schedule and there’s 15 games that day, none of them starting before 6:05 CST. There needs to be at least two early games in the late morning/early afternoon everyday to help satisfy our thirst for more baseball, because it doesn’t matter who’s playing, if it’s on, I’ll watch it or follow it on the computer/iPhone MLB AtBat app.

5. Double-bag first base- This one might make me sound like a girl that’s spent too much time playing and coaching softball, but we’re so big on player safety now that it just makes sense to use a double-bag. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, a double-bag is a regular first base with another first base attached to it in foul territory. They use these in youth leagues and high school softball as a safety feature. The first baseman is to use the regular bag (the white portion) and the runner trying to leg out an infield hit uses the bag in foul ground (usually orange). Once the runner hits the orange part, it’s not used again. This doesn’t eliminate, but does decrease the chances of bad collisions at first between the first baseman trying to snag an errant throw and the runner busting tail down the line. Derrek Lee broke his wrist on a play like this several years ago and still hasn’t bounced back to the form he was in before. I think we’ve all seen the Albert Pujols play which resulted in his injury (also could have been avoided with proper footwork). First basemen are some of the biggest names in the game and we should do what we can to keep them in the game as much as possible.

6. Limit September call-ups- During the regular season, each team has 25 active players on it’s roster. However, when September rolls around, teams can expand their rosters to 40. This can give some of those Minor Leaguers some Major League experience when their season is over. But the issue here is you could have a bunch of Minor Leagues making a major difference in playoff races. Let’s say the Diamondbacks are battling for a playoff spot and it’s the last series of the season which happens to be against the Dodgers who were eliminated from contention months ago. Meanwhile, the Giants and the Rockies are also duking it out to go the playoffs. They all have 15 Minor Leaguers they’ve called up to finish the season, some of which are getting their first tastes ever of the Big Leagues (assuming they were on the organization's 40-man roster). The Dodgers are looking at guys for next year that will probably be starting in AAA again in April, but the D-Backs are playing mostly their Major Leaguers. The Giants and Rockies are using Major Leaguers against each other trying to make it to the postseason. Who benefits the most from this? That’s right, the Diamondbacks because they’re basically competing against a JV team when the other teams are seeing each other’s studs. I’m all for calling up some of the very top prospects at the end, but 15 is too much. Expand the rosters from 25 to 30, not 40.

7. Balance the leagues and divisions- I posted something along these lines on my buddy Skip’s blog ( a while back. Currently there are 16 NL teams and 14 AL ones. Each league has to have an even number under the current format where Interleague is only done sporadically throughout the season. I say ditch the way we do Interleague now because the novelty has worn off. It used to be a big deal, now not so much. My solution (one that’s been thrown around a little already) is to take Houston from the NL Central and place them in the AL West. You’d now have 15 teams in each league with 5 teams in each division. This means there would be at least one AL and one NL team playing each other every day. This would also help with #8 on the list…

8. Create a more balanced schedule- I think as it is right now, teams play too many games within their own division and not enough outside it. I’m going to pitch my suggestion then try to rationalize.
- Teams would play non-division teams in the their league in a home and away 3 game series each season (10 x 6 = 60 games)
- Teams would play each team in the other league in a 3 game series, alternating home each season (15 x 3 = 45 games)
- Teams would play each team in their division 14 times in two 3 game series and two 4 game series (4 x 14 = 56 games)
This is a total 161 games. To get to the 162nd game, each team would add 1 game to an Interleague game against a predetermined rival (Royals-Cardinals, Cubs-White Sox, Mets-Yankees, etc.) making it a 4 game series with the site of that series alternating each season. I love this format. As a Cubs fan, it stinks that this year was the first time in ten years that they’ve played in Kansas City. Under this format, they’d be out here every two years. I think this would be something fans would like more than the current Interleague format. And it doesn’t extend the season at all.

9. Enforce speed up rules- The game doesn’t have a clock and that’s one of the nice nuances of it. But sometimes clocks exist to speed things up because our attention spans can’t last long enough. Games are averaging over 2 hours and 40 minutes now. It’s not uncommon to see nine inning games last over three hours. The Yankees and Red Sox played a low-scoring nine-inning game this week that was over four hours long! As much as I love the game and could watch it all day every day, even I think that’s too much. It is “America’s Pastime” but it shouldn't take up all our time. So here’s how we fix that:
​- Enforce the 12-second rule. When no one is on base, the pitcher has 12 seconds to deliver the next pitch from the time he receives the throw back from the catcher. Umps need to enforce it and call a ball if it’s not followed.
​- Keep batters in the box. They’re as much at fault for pitcher’s taking too long. There’s no need for batters to step out after every pitch to check their signs and go through some lengthy elaborate pre-hack ritual (see David Ortiz and Nomar Garciaparra back in the day). If the batter is taking too long to get ready to swing, call a strike on him. After all, if we can call a ball on pitchers, we should be able to call a strike on batters.
​- Limit the number of trips by catchers and all other defensive players to the mound to once per AB. They don’t need to make the trot out to the bump more than once per batter. If they want to go out there and change the signs with a runner on second after a steal, that’s fine, that’s your trip for that AB. Go out there and calm the guy down after a blast, that’s your trip for the next batter. Runner gets to second while the same guy is batting, you better already know what sequence of signs you’re going with because you used your trip, buddy.
​- Enforce some hustle from players, coaches and managers. No more long, slow walks by pitching coaches or managers to buy the guy in the bullpen two or three extra tosses. If a coach does this, limit the number of warm-up pitches a reliever gets on the mound. If it becomes an issue with the same guys over and over again, fine them. And relievers need to get out there a little quicker, too. They don’t necessarily need to do the Heath Bell sprint from pen like he did during the All Star Game, but a little more effort would be nice.
​- Limit trips to the mound to 30 seconds per trip. They still have the same rules as for going out there once per inning for free, but the second trip yanks the pitcher. Now they only have 30 seconds to get off the mound and then hustle back to the dugout. If a coach/manager violates this, they get a warning the first time, tossed the second.

Well, those are my nine ways that I think I could improve baseball as commissioner. I’m sure there’s a lot of things that I’d do that don’t make much sense, so I’d be the right guy for the job. After all, me and Bud Selig have that in common.