Friday, June 12, 2020

Baseball Happenings Podcast | 'Big Sexy: Bartolo Colon In His Own Words' Author Michael Stahl

Bartolo Colón still has hopes of returning to the majors leagues. At 47, and with labor negotiations at a stand still, his chances are as good as Vegas bookmakers trying to set the odds to win the World Series

According to SBD, "The second-tier favorites have generally gotten longer with the MLB planning to play a shortened, 80-game season with an expanded playoff field. Fewer games means greater likelihood for unexpected outcomes."

Despite the uncertainty surrounding Colón's return to the field or if the season will take place, fans will rejoice reading Colón's journey in his new autobiography, "Big Sexy: Bartolo Colón In His Own Words". The 21-year MLB veteran partnered with Stahl through a series of interviews at his New Jersey home to tell how he achieved major league stardom from his humble Dominican Republic beginnings.

In the latest Baseball Happenings Podcast episode, Stahl discussed how the rookie author was able to link up with Colón for his "big league" publishing debut. During the 18-minute interview, he tells some of his favorite stories from the book, while also explaining how this venture has validated his transition from a New York City high school English teacher to author during an unprecedented pandemic.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Carlos Lezcano: Alex Rodriguez Could Have Played MLB Out Of High School

As spring training emerged in 1994, one manager would be provided with the task of guiding the Seattle Mariners’ highly regarded first round draft pick Alex Rodriguez into the ranks of professional baseball. Mariners general manager Woody Woodward realized the importance of having a seasoned veteran to help the highly touted prospect navigate the nuances of the system. He bestowed that honor to Carlos Lezcano, a former major league outfielder, who played under Woodward’s watch when he was the head coach at Florida State University.

“When they made the rosters and we met before spring training started, I knew there was a good chance that he would start with me,” Lezcano recalled via telephone. “They gave me a lot of responsibility to have the number one draft pick playing for me.”

Alex Rodriguez / Carlos Lezcano 1994 Appleton Foxes Pro Cards / Author's Collection

Lezcano immediately noticed Rodriguez’s physical gifts during their first spring training encounter. He had a presence on the field that was unparalleled by your typical 18-year-old fresh out of high school.

“The first thing that impressed me was his size—how strong he was, his coordination, and his ability to do things at a young age with that kind of body,” he said. “He had so much talent.”

With Rodriguez oozing potential out of every inch of his six-foot-three frame, Lezcano directed Rodriguez in the ways of carrying himself like a major league ballplayer. This education included navigating the hordes of press that ensued, preparing him for the intense scrutiny that would follow him for the remainder of his career.

“The main thing I had to do with him was help with the media,” he recalled. “He was very mature and he knew how to talk to the press. Everywhere we went, they wanted to talk to him all the time. I had to tell the reporters to interview him the first day we were there and then on the last day. We usually played a four-game series, so we had to give him a break from the press, as it would have been too much for him to be talking to the press every day. I think that helped him. We had him concentrate on his field work and his play on the field. That’s something I had to deal with that I never had to deal with before, or since.”

While Rodriguez showed poise for a teenager dealing with the media, some of his actions still reminded his skipper that he was handling someone who was trying to figure out how to manage his life away from home. Lezcano recounted a time where the mere threat of telling Rodriguez’s mother about his close calls with being late to the ballpark was enough to straighten him out.

“He was never late, but he was cutting it close a couple of times,” he said. “His mother was going to come to visit him to see him play. I told him, ‘You’re a professional baseball player, you’ve gotta be here sooner or I’m going to tell your mother.’ By just saying that to him he was always there earlier and did whatever he had to do. He had a lot of respect for his mother. You could see he was raised the right way.”

Rodriguez played 65 games for Appleton, batting .319 with 14 home runs and 16 stolen bases in 1994, playing barely half the season with Lezcano before he was whisked up the minor league ladder en route to the major leagues. Looking back, Lezcano feels that the minor leagues were a mere formality for Rodriguez and that if the situation presented itself out of spring training, that he could have bypassed the minor leagues entirely.

“I’ve been in baseball 40 years, that kid could have played in the big leagues out of high school,” he said. “With the right situation and the right manager, ability wise he could have played in the big leagues. [Most impressive was] his ability to take instruction into the game so quickly; he’s the fastest guy I’ve ever had [to make adjustments]. Right away he just took it into the game, it was unbelievable.

“At 18, he would hit balls 400 feet. One time I’m coaching third base and he hit a triple and he slides into third base. The guy who caught the ball was 23-24 years old and Alex looked like the man and the other guy looked like the young kid. He was that dominant of a player.”

Fresh off of coaching the Liberal Blue Jays against Roger Clemens’ team of former major leaguers in the National Baseball Congress World Series, Lezcano shared how working with the college-aged players reminded him of how advanced Rodriguez was for his age.

“It’s like young people play the game too fast,” he said. “They get excited and they play fast. He always played the game under control and kind of slowed the game down. That’s what you want to do with young players. Slow the game down, have options in your mind. He was like that from the beginning. That’s part of the reason he was so good, his ability and way of slowing the game down at a young age was very unusual.”

As the Yankees sent Rodriguez off the field with an epic farewell, his first professional manager wondered if it was truly the last time that his prodigy would set foot on major league soil. He is holding out that another club will give Rodriguez a chance to reach the 700 home run milestone. “I hope he latches one with someone else,” he said.

“The guy’s got 696 home runs. I just hope he gets a chance to hit 700 somewhere. Alex had his things throughout his baseball career, but I think way down he’s got a good heart and he’s a good man. I just hope that this is not the end of him. He hasn’t been treated fairly. I don’t know the whole details, but I hope he gets another chance to get that 700.

“I only have good things to say about Alex. He’s behaved like a true professional. I’m glad that people are taking care of showing that side of him instead of the negative stuff; talking about that raw talent, that innocent face, and that kid that was worried about what his mother would say if I said something to her.”

* This was originally published for the now-defunct Sports Post on August 15, 2016.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Baseball Happenings Podcast | Jeff Frye Interview

Jeff Frye was a fan favorite during his eight major league seasons with the Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox, Colorado Rockies, and Toronto Blue Jays, but little did he expect to gain massive social media fame almost 20 years after he last put on the uniform. After a series of videos where he is spoofing hitting instruction methods he's seen online, including the one below which has received 1.4 million views as of this writing, Frye's "She gone!" has become a cult cry among his fans and retired MLB peers.

Frye joined the Baseball Happenings Podcast to discuss how he's handled the unexpected attention, and how he hopes his videos will help young baseball players and their families become better informed consumers when selecting a hitting coach.

What to do if your ##hitting coach hands you a PVC pipe. ##baseball ##mlb ##tips ##shegone ##baseballcards ##batting

♬ original sound - examinebaseball

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Baseball Happenings Podcast | Brad Balukjian Wax Pack Book Interview

Brad Balukjian, author of The Wax Pack: On The Open Road In Search of Baseball's Afterlife, joined the Baseball Happenings Podcast for a special Q&A interview where readers submitted questions for Balukjian to answer live on-air about his 11,341 mile journey across the country to uncover the afterlives of 14 retired Major League Baseball players.

In 2015, I met with Balukjian in Brooklyn while he was in New York to meet with Lee Mazzilli and Doc Gooden for the book. After being rejected by multiple publishers, his book is currently the best-selling baseball book on Amazon at the time of this writing.

During the 45-minute Q&A, Balukjian explained his crazy travels trying to track down Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk, getting batting lessons from World Series champ Rance Mulliniks, and his conflict peeling away layers from his baseball hero, Don Carman.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

How Don Carman Remained Batterymates With Darren Daulton Through His Final Hours

Throughout a long Major League Baseball career, one might have hundreds who they call teammates, but only a select few they can call true friends. Despite bonding while traveling the country for six months trying to win a World Series championship, as soon as teammates clean out their lockers, they often go their separate ways until spring training.

With the platitudes expressed for Darren Daulton in the wake of his passing, one of his teammates shared how a union formed before their first major league game together persisted through Daulton's final hours. Don Carman, a former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher who broke into the majors with Dalton in 1983, explained the nature of their transcendental friendship.

“We had something special, because in baseball I have a lot of really good friends that I spent time with, [but] the day they stop playing, they go home and you never hear from them again,” Carman said via phone shortly after Daulton's death. “It happens all the time. … That's the rule. … He and I had an amazing friendship, a wonderful friendship, [we were] very close, and I loved him like mad. There's not a time where we wouldn't hug, kiss each other, and say, 'I love you,' because you knew you had something different.”

To understand just how their relationship started, go back to the 1983 season when the two were a battery for the Philadelphia Phillies Double-A team in Reading, Pennsylvania. After both had breakout seasons in the minors, the National League champion Philadelphia Phillies called them up when rosters expanded. Arriving in the heat of a pennant race, the pair watched as future Hall of Famers Steve Carlton, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, and Mike Schmidt worked at clinching the pennant. Finally, with the pennant in hand, manager Paul Owens inserted Daulton into the starting lineup on the next-to-last game of the 1983 season.

In the bottom of the 8th inning, Daulton scored the go-ahead run against the Pittsburgh Pirates, giving Owens the opportunity to summon Carman to seal the deal. The lefty spent most of the season as Reading's closer and he now was in the position to get a save in his major league debut. As a nervous Carman approached the mound, a familiar face greeted him with the right message to get him under control.

“I remember being scared to death,” he said. “Then he [Daulton] came out the mound and said something like, 'We made it. You and I made it. We're here, and we're playing in the big leagues.' I remember still being afraid, but at least I didn't have to worry about how to pitch and what I wanted to do because the guy knew me so well. And I did, I had a 1-2-3 inning. It was obviously my first outing, but it was as much as being comfortable with knowing that I didn't have to think; all I had to do, whatever he put down, I'm going to throw it because I couldn't think because I was so scared. I was the closer in Reading for the last three months of the season, so he knew me, what I wanted to do, and what made me effective, so I didn't have to worry about that.”

Just how Daulton helped to guide Carman in his debut, Carman noted that “Dutch” had a magnetism that drew his teammates to follow him. From the beginning of his career, Daulton had an uncanny ability to inspire that was evident across the league.

“The strange thing about him, everybody in baseball knows he was one of the most special baseball-type people—he was the consummate player and everybody looked up to him, even when he was 26-27, the 35-year-olds looked up to him," Carman said. “He was the leader of every team he was on. I've never met a better leader, just an amazing guy; he was like that in the minor leagues. He was a natural.”

Daulton made it a point to extend himself not only to his teammates, but to everyone around him who made the game run. Carman felt it was how “Dutch” treated those whose names did not show up in the box score that was a true testament to his character.

“It didn't matter if you were grounds crew or the owner of the team, everybody wanted to be around him and everybody felt special,” he said.“It was every person; it didn't matter who you were. If the owner of the team came over, he would walk over, grab him by the face with both hands and kiss him on the cheek. If it was the guys who just dragged the field and they walked by, 'Dutch' would do the same thing. It didn't matter who you were, you demanded his respect because he gave it to you, and everybody felt special.

“There's something about his personality that gave you this feeling that he really does care. This moment he cares about me, enough to pay attention to me, to listen to me, to smile at me, to make eye contact with me, and hear what I just said.”

Philadelphia's love affair with Dutch grew as his spirit and personality resonated with the Phillies faithful. The Phillies honored their leader when they inducted him into their Wall of Fame in 2010. Even amongst the of Hall of Famers, Carman's keen eye noted that in later years, Daulton stood out as the obvious fan favorite.

“When you go to the Wall of Fame in Philly, they call them all out on the field,” he said. “They always call him out last because they know he's going to get the biggest ovation every time. You're talking about Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt, who spent more time there and are in the Hall of Fame. People would cheer, but when he came out, the place would erupt. He even made fans feel special."

While Daulton stayed in the spotlight, he and Carman remained tight behind the scenes. They participated in each other's weddings while becoming confidants throughout tough times in their lives. They stuck together even when many walked away from Daulton when he released his controversial book, “If They Only Knew” in 2007.

“Throughout all three marriages, he and I talked because he knew he could trust me," Carman said. “He would come to me for advice through all of this, so we've become very close over the years. When he went through his bizarre time when he wrote the book [If They Only Knew], a lot of people didn't know how to respond; I didn't know how, but it wasn't by leaving him because I knew this person and something was wrong. It turns out he had a brain tumor. As soon as they removed the bulk of the brain tumor, the crazy behavior changed and he was back. It was amazing."

When Daulton's brain cancer recently took a turn for the worse, Carman dropped what he was doing to make the three-hour trip to Daulton's bed side. For the next two weeks, he made spending time with Dutch his main priority.

“I kind of put work on hold for the last two weeks because that's when he made a really downward turn,” he said. “I've been with him every other day for the past 15 days. He lives three hours away. I would drive up, see him, and leave [his wife] Amanda, her mother, and his parents. I would spend the day there, go to a hotel, and then come back see him, and then drive home. A couple of days later, I would do it again.”

Even in his final days, Daulton stayed true to form, mustering up whatever strength he had left to make Carman feel welcome. This time, Carman did most of the heavy lifting.

“Obviously it was difficult,” he said. “The last ten days, he couldn't talk, but he could listen, smile, and hug you with one arm as the right side was paralyzed. Since he could do that, I did the talking.”

Carman spent five hours with Daulton on the day he died. Speaking with him only two days later, Carman did his best to hold back tears while humbly expressing gratitude for being there one last time for his good friend.

“I'm just glad I could talk to him.”

* This article originally appeared in the now defunct Sports Post on August, 10, 2017.