Rollins Ties Schmidt’s All-Time Franchise Hit Record in Phillies Loss

After a three-game sweep against the lowly Padres of the NL West, the Phillies (28-36) welcomed in the Cubs (27-38), who hold the worst record in all of baseball. The pitching matchup gave us Roberto Hernandez and Jake Arrieta, but that isn’t what took center stage on this night in Philadelphia. Jimmy Rollins, one hit away from tying the all-time franchise record for hits by Mike Schmidt, was aiming at history and also looking to extend the Phillies three-game win streak. 

The Game: The Cubs got on the board first in the fourth inning. Roberto Hernandez had gotten out of a jam or two already, but he walked Anthony Rizzo to start the inning. Starlin Castro followed with a two-run home run to left center field off of a 1-1 pitch left up in the zone by Roberto Hernandez. That knock gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead.

In the sixth inning, Hernandez got Ryan Sweeney to groundout and Anthony Rizzo to fly out, bringing up Starlin Castro, who hit a two-run home run earlier. Hernandez threw a pitch up and in that hit Castro in the hand. Without warning, home plate umpire Mark Ripperger threw Roberto out of the game. In any instance, umpires would warn each bench before even thinking about tossing out a guy after a hit by pitch. Ripperger, normally a Triple-A umpire, has been a Major League fill-in for the past four years so obviously the quick trigger ejection comes as not much of a surprise. Phils skipper Ryne Sandberg immediately argued the call, exclaiming that Hernandez had no intent to hit Castro, and was ejected.

In the bottom of the eighth, Carlos Ruiz led things off with a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch by Cubs starter, Pedro Strop. With a runner in scoring position with no outs, the Phillies failed to bring in the run. Reid Brignac, Ben Revere and John Mayberry all grounded out to end the inning, keeping the home team off the board for another frame.

In the bottom of the ninth, Jimmy Rollins stepped to the plate with an 0-for-3 line thus far in the game. J-Roll pulled the second pitch of the at-bat down the line in right, just fair off the wall. It bounced passed the right fielder, Schierholtz, and Rollins went into second base standing with hit #2,234, tying Mike Schmidt’s franchise hit record. Whether or not you have been a Jimmy Rollins fan over the years, you have to appreciate what we are witnessing. Rollins made his debut on September 27th, 2000. Here we are, over 13 years past that, watching the Phillies franchise shortstop tie a record that was, by no means, an easy achievement.

Back to the bottom of the ninth for the Phillies. After the Rollins milestone, Chase Utley flew out and Ryan Howard struck out. With two outs, Marlon Byrd worked a walk, setting up runners on the corners for Domonic Brown. The Phils left fielder snuck a single through the hole at second base, good enough to score Rollins and get Byrd to third, cutting the lead in half, 2-1. Unfortunately, Carlos Ruiz struck out looking on a pitch that looked outside, sealing the Phillies fate.

Notable offensive statistics: 

Jimmy Rollins: 1-4, 2B, R – Tied Mike Schmidt’s all-time Phillies franchise record in hits in the ninth.

Domonic Brown: 2-4, 2B, RBI

Impact: This loss shows that when you sweep the Padres, you have swept…the Padres. Obviously, the Phils ran into a hot arm in Jake Arrieta, but carried no momentum from their sweep into this one. They were an abominable 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position as well. You can’t fault Roberto Hernandez in this one, as it looked like he took a step forward from his previous starts that were awful. The bullpen looked phenomenal tonight. Antonio Bastardo pitched two shutout innings and struck out three while righty Justin De Fratus threw another shutout inning in the ninth. In nine appearances since rejoining the Phillies late last month, he has tossed 10 innings, giving up no earned runs and scattering six hits. De Fratus has walked just one hitter and put down 10 via the strikeout.

Up Next: The Phillies and Cubs continue their series on Saturday afternoon at 3:05pm. David Buchanan (1-3, 6.08) will sqaure off against veteran right-hander, Edwin Jackson (4-6, 4.70). Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins will look to break the all-time franchise record in hits after tying Schmidt tonight in the ninth.

Brandon Apter, Publishing Editor for Philliedelphia.com

Sixers Fall to LeBron, Heat 101-86

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 A 114-110 win over the Heat to open the season, including a 19-0 run to start things, may have been a fluke. Sixers fans likely didn’t expect the same performance, but perhaps something similar. Some fight, some grit, something. Unfortunately that was not the case in tonight’s game as the Sixers (13-26) trailed from the opening tip, eventually falling to the Heat (28-1) by a score of 101-86.

With just over four minutes to go in the first half, the Sixers found themselves trailing by double-digits, 25-13. They managed to keep things relatively close, down by just 10 after one quarter. The stats weren’t pretty as the game went along, shooting just 1-13 (7.7%) from three-point range and 31.1% from the field at the half. A suffocating Heat defense and Chris Bosh’s 15 points in the first half put the struggling Sixers offense in a bad position. Missed layups & dunks cost the Liberty Ballers as the Heat showed off their championship calibur offense heading into the break with a 58-41 lead. Another not-so-pretty halftime fact? Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes and Michael Carter-Williamswere a combined 3-22 from the floor through the first 24 minutes.

The Heat came out of the half right where they left off, extending their lead to 21 early into the third, led by Chris Bosh. After a first half that saw him struggling to get much of anything going, Spencer Hawes secured himself a double-double midway through the third. Another good note -signed to a 10-day contract a few days back, big-man Dewayne Dedmon scored his first NBA points with an 18-footer in the third.

Despite the Heat’s best effort to pull even further ahead, the Sixers kept pace in the third, being outscored just 21-20. 79-61 would be the score heading into the fourth. The Sixers could only pull within 13 points, no closer, as they fell to the Heat, 101-86.

The lopsided game led the way for some younger players to see some time in the second half.  Hollis Thompson came off of the bench to score 10 points and grab six rebounds while Dewayne Dedmon scored seven points and grabbed seven boards.

Overall, the Sixers struggled from the field all night, shooting just 36.9% from and just 10% (2-for-20) from beyond the arc. It could have been a different game if the Sixers did better from the charity strike as well. They made 22 free throws on 37 attempts, a dismal 59.5%.

Tony Wroten led all Sixers scores with 13 points, while Evan Turner added 11. Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes, and Hollis Thompson added 10 points a piece. Michael Carter-Williams never got his offensive game rolling, scoring seven points (1-7 FG), five from the free throw line.

On the Heat side, LeBron James fell just short of a double-double, finishing with 21 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Chris Bosh led the Heat with 25 points. Miami was much better at the line than Philadelphia, scoring 17 points on 20 shots.

Up next, the Sixers head to Chicago for an 8PM matchup with the Bulls on Saturday night before traveling to DC to face the Wizards on Monday night.

Follow Brandon Apter on Twitter @ApterShock

Flyers Look to Bounce Back Against Lowly Sabres

Jakub Voracek and the Flyers beat the Sabres 4-1 earlier this season

After two costly slow starts against tough Eastern Conference teams, the Flyers travel to Buffalo tonight for what should a be a game to get them back on track. The Flyers (23-19-4), who dropped to 4th place in the Metropolitan Division after two straight losses, head to Buffalo to play the Eastern Conference worst Sabres (13-26-5). These two teams met back in late November, with Philadelphia coming out on top by a score of 4-1. Matt Read scored two while Hartnell and Lecavalier each pitched in with a goal. Ray Emery stopped 29 shots that night.

A quick look back at the weekend: The Flyers were heading into a big weekend playing great hockey. They had won seven of their last eight and facing a Tampa Bay team that proved to be too much for the Flyers to handle. They trailed 2-0 and 3-1 early but fought back to tie things at three a piece. The defense couldn’t play well in front of Mason, who didn’t look comfortable all night. Just a little over a minute after the Flyers tied it to take the momentum, the Lightning took it right back with a goal by Valtteri Filppula. Tampa Bay added another goal before the end of the period and ended up with a 6-3 win. Though the Flyers led the game in shots 38-25, they couldn’t stop the hot-handed Lightning.

A game against the rival Rangers awaited the Flyers the very next day, so they needed to forget about the loss the day before quickly to try to keep themselves from falling further back in the standings. Unfortunately, the Flyers looked sloppy and slow from puck drop as they were suffocated early by the Rangers forecheck and could never recover. After relieving Steve Mason against Tampa Bay just the day before, Ray Emery found himself between the pipes and he was left hanging early. With just over two minutes into the game, the Rangers saw plenty of offensive zone time and capitalized on the shoddy Philadelphia D. Former Flyer Dan Carcillo scored a goal and shortly after, New York added another one via the stick of Rick Nash to take a 2-0 lead. Another first period goal made it 3-0 heading into the locker room, with three penalties making it tough for Philadelphia to come back. A second period tally from the Rangers made it 4-0. The Flyers finally got on the board late in the third with a power play goal by Mark Streit, but that was all she wrote. Emery still ended up with an “ok” night, saving 31 out of 35. The defense was not good in front of him, especially early.

Lowly, yet competitive Sabres await: Tonight’s game against Buffalo (7:30PM on NBCSN) is just the game the Fly Guys need in order to get back in the win column. Don’t underestimate the Sabres though as they are coming off of a surprising 2-1 win in the shootout against the Capitals. Buffalo has won two of their last three, with all three of those games ending in a 2-1 score. Eight of Buffalo’s last 13 games have ended in a 2-1 score, so the Flyers may be facing a team that is the worst in the East record-wise, but play teams rather close. After a large workload on Sunday by Emery, I would assume we would see Steve Mason try to rebound from a tough loss against TB in goal tonight. Buffalo ranks 30th in the league in goals scored with 1.6, 24th in goals against, 26th in power play percentage and 23rd in penalty kill percentage. The Flyers rank 18th in the NHL with 2.6 goals per game while they are 17th in both goals against (2.7) and power play percentage (18%). The Flyers penalty kill has been impressive as of late, ranking 7th with an 84.7% kill rate. The Flyers are 6-2-2  over the last five seasons on the road against the Sabres, however lost both of their most recent contests last season.

Looking ahead: After visiting the Sabres, the Flyers host Nashville (19-21-7) on Thursday. They begin a home & home with the Islanders (18-22-7) on Saturday in Philadelphia and will head to New York on Monday. The Orange & Black need to start playing better in their next four games against sub-par teams as Columbus, Boston, Detroit and Anaheim are looming to finish out the January schedule.

Apter Thoughts: I believe the Flyers will get the win tonight against Buffalo 3-1 and take care of Nashville 2-1. The will split their home & home with the Islanders, winning at home 4-2 and losing on the road 3-2.

Thank you for reading the latest edition of Apter Hours. Feel free to follow the author, Brandon Apter, on twitter @ApterShock

Sarge & Wheels Out; Phillies Broadcast Likely To Improve

Chris Wheeler (bottom left), Gary Matthews (top right) and the rest of the Phillies Broadcast Team

“It’s been an honor and a privilege to be a part of the Phillies broadcast team for 37 years,” Chris Wheeler said. “I certainly respect the decision that was made and I look forward to my new role in the Phillies organization.”

For the first time since 1962, the Phillies broadcast team will not consist of Ashburn, Kalas or Wheels. While I never had the pleasure of listening to Harry & Whitey, my ears definitely heard plenty of Harry and way too much Wheels over the years. After signing a TV with Comcast for somewhere between $2.5 and $3 billion, the Phils announced that Chris Wheeler and Gary “Sarge” Matthews will not be returning to the brodcast in 2014.

Let’s be real here. Chris Wheeler, or “Muff” as some of us know him,  brought a lot to the table in terms of knowledge of baseball and the Phillies organization. A lot of people, who may not have watched a lot of games in succession, were a fan of his broadcasts because they learned something new each time. As the years went along, Wheels never really grew on me, along with plenty of other people. His analysis of the game was never really too great and if anyone read Harry Kalas’ book, it seemed like him and Harry had quite a rough history. Whether or not Wheels was a good broadcaster, he has been a staple of Phillies broadcasts for the a long time.  Wheels began his career with the Phillies in 1971 as assistant director of publicity and publication relations. He joined the broadcast team in 1977. While his departure will be strange for some Phillies fans, a vast improvement in the broadcast is likely.

It seems as if both him and Sarge will be taking new roles within the organization, which will be interesting to see. Here is a statement released by the Phillies today on the removal of Wheels and Sarge from the booth.

”As the longest-tenured member of the Phillies broadcasting team, Chris Wheeler will return to his club roots after stepping down from his role as a Phillies broadcaster,” the Phillies said in a statement. “With 37 years of broadcasting experience, combined with his front office background where he began his Phillies career, ‘Wheels’ will take on a new role allowing the organization to continue to benefit from his knowledge, experience and dedication to the game. Additionally, Gary Matthews will continue to work with the Phillies bringing his exceptional background as a major league ballplayer, broadcaster and commentator to new roles at the Phillies.”

Sarge, who just finished his seventh year as member of the Phillies broadcast, was more of a “fun” factor than anything else for me. He was great to listen to because his voice was very unique and you could tell from his broadcasts that not only was he a player of the game but he was also a huge fan of the game. Though only a member of the Phillies on the field from 1981-83, Sarge’s years in the booth created plenty of memories for all of us including “Cadillac Time” whenever a Phillie hit a homer and he even had the occasional slip up while analyzing a pitching sequence. We all know about the time he said “you jerk off the ball and let this guy jam you” right before saying “if it comes, it comes”. Preston and Steve highlighted those and some other good ones in this short clip below. We all wish Sarge “continued success” in whatever his future with the Phils brings.

“I enjoy working for the Phillies and want to retire as a Phillie,” Matthews said in a phone conversation. “This is a great opportunity for me to remain in the area and also do my charity work.”

The Associated Press lists Brad Lidge, Ricky Botallico and Chris Coste as possible replacements for Wheels/Sarge. Larry Anderson and Scott Franzke will stay on the radio while Tom McCarthy and Gregg Murphy will remain on the TV side of things. No word on Jim Jackson though, who has done pre-game show and a few radio innings. If I had things my way, I would keep him to hockey.

More Than One to Blame in Two-Point Loss

A new year, a new resolution? Mine, you ask? Well more posts on here of course. I’m sure you’ve read plenty of Eagles articles that say the same thing as this, but whatever. I am going to continue anyway.

I sent out a tweet last night that read…

I got a couple of responses that can be summed up with one…

 

Let me make something clear. The field goal Henery missed in the first quarter could have definitely changed the game, but by no means does his possible make mean the game would have taken the same path. What happens if he makes that kick? What happens if Boykin didn’t intercept Kyle Orton’s pass in week 17? What if Patrick Chung could play football? I could go on and on with this “what if” crap. Fact is he didn’t make the kick and should be cut for being awful in the clutch not only on field goals, but on kickoffs as well. Is he the only one to blame for this loss though? No chance.

First off, Drew Brees (20/30 for 250yds, 1TD, 2INT, 49.7 QBR) is going to be a first ballot Hall of Fame QB even though he didn’t look great on Saturday night. The first half ended in a 7-6 score with Brees getting away with two interceptions. The Eagles got two huge turnovers and failed to capitalize on either of them. You score on one of them – different game. The offense just looked sloppy in the first half. Foles didn’t look comfortable, the Saints contained McCoy and DeSean Jackson was nowhere to be seen, which was a shame. If the offense would have done more early – different game. Foles finished the game going 23-for-33 for 195 yards and two touchdowns. Hell of a season he played.

Obviously the second half for the offense was a different story. They came out a little stale and got behind 20-7, before taking a 24-23 lead with just under five minutes to play. There were still plenty of chances to score more points. One play specifically, a dropped third-and-long play by Riley Cooper. The guy has had a phenomenal season but dropped a perfect throw from Foles right in the numbers with nothing but open field in front of him. All this being said, the offense showed plenty of fight in the comeback yet couldn’t do enough early to come out on top of this one.

The defense was also a reason the Saints won this game. Whether Henery would have made that kick or not, the Birds run defense would have found a way to lose this one. With lead back Pierre Thomas sidelined, the Eagles defensive unit gave up 185 yards rushing. They did a good job containing Jimmy Graham, but yesterday we saw the weakness of the run defense against a team that was ranked 25th overall in the rushing department. They gave up a lot of huge sneak plays towards the end of the game and only managed two sacks, which were back-to-back. Failure to put pressure on Brees gave him more time to make better decisions and he did just that right when they came out of the locker room in the second stanza. Linebackers played well pretty much all game. DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks and Connor Barwin stood tall and should improve even more next season.

Let’s move on to the issues of the secondary. Once we knew Earl Wolff was determined to be out, we faced the Patrick Chung realization. He hadn’t been good all season filling in and after the first half, I was alright with the way things were. In the second half, Brees picked apart the defense and Chung missed some big tackles and left Kenny Stills wide open on a drive that ended in a Saints touchdown. We’ve known for weeks that Chung wasn’t good, and he proved that he is not capable of being an NFL safety. Hopefully the Eagles address the safety position in the draft because Nate Allen has been quite a disappointment as well. As for the cornerbacks, they played alright. Cary Williams took a late-game penalty that was necessary to take a score and we got a typical game from Boykin and company. It’d be nice to strengthen that side of things once free agency hits, because the defensive secondary is probably this team’s weakest link.

After a season where we saw this team go 4-12 under Andy Reid, I can’t say I saw 10-6 with the NFC East title coming at all. There is a lot of young talent with plenty of potential. We can only hope that they live up to said potential.

Two words explain why the Eagles are headed home. Missed opportunities.

The Keys Open A New Door – Part I

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It has been quite a while since I have blogged about anything. I am taking a different approach on these next few posts as I turn the page in my career and move on to the next chapter. Working in Minor League Baseball is a truly amazing experience and I am humbled to be able to make a living doing something I love, which is tough for a lot of people to say these days.

Just a quick background on my career thus far in the minors, I began in 2009 doing a college internship for the Double ‘A’ Phillies affiliate, the Reading Phillies (now the Fightin’ Phils). The R-Phils really got things started for me as I got to work with a fantastic staff that is known across MiLB as one of the top-tier organizations. Check out a run-down of my summer in Reading right here.

After mulling over a couple of full-time job offers at the 2009 Winter Meetings in Indianapolis, I instead decided to dedicate another season towards expanding my expertise in marketing and promotions. So, in 2010, I accepted a position as the Marketing Assistant for the Wilmington Blue Rockswho are the Advanced ‘A’ Affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. My direct supervisor at the Blue Rocks, Mark Vanderhaar, taught me a lot through my nine months in Wilmington, but the thing I learned the most from him was just how to conduct myself professionally in the industry. I mean, I already had a general idea of how things worked, but until learning the inner workings of the Blue Rocks, I didn’t realize how much actually goes on behind the scenes for a minor league team. I managed a group of over 35 college interns, taught myself photoshop and much more. Check out my recap of my Blue Rocks experience by clicking here.

The nine-month assistant position with the Rocks helped secure me a full-time position with the Advanced ‘A’ Affiliate for the Baltimore Orioles, the Frederick Keys, as the Promotions Manager. Little did I know, three years into my work, the Keys experience would unlock bigger things for me in the minor league baseball world. Here, I plan to touch on my experiences with the Keys that have now led me to become the Marketing & Promotions Manager for the Gwinnett Braves, Triple ‘A’ Affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. In this first post, I will focus primarily on community relations programs and mascot appearances.

My first Keyote appearance on camera for the Keys in 2011

 

Community Relations & Mascot Adventures 

I began work with the Keys in 2010 right after Thanksgiving time. Other than college, I had never really been on my own. Never liked sleepovers much as a kid, never went to sleep away camp and never really saw myself leaving the area near family. Well, in the minors, moving is a way to advance and I am definitely comfortable with that now after three years on my own. Joining the Keys in the offseason was obviously a great advantage. Having time to get settled with all of the programs, staff, etc. The first season of mine with the Keys was the toughest when it came to adjusting, but it was a learning experience within itself.

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Keyote (me) and the Oriole Bird at a yearly Dr. Seuss event at the Westminster Town Mall

I was dealt right into the action when it came to community appearances, representing the Keys at four appearances in my first two weeks on the job as the mascot, Keyote. Mascotting is definitely not one of the highlights of anyone’s day, but I thoroughly enjoyed the interaction with the fans on that side of things. I never had sports mascots visit my community in New York or Pennsylvania when I was a kid, so I understood how great of an experience this was for some people, especially the kids. Throughout my time with the Keys, I probably performed as Keyote at over 125 appearances across Maryland, parts of Virginia and West Virginia and even Delaware. Getting out in the community and just getting the Keys name into people’s brains is an underrated act in my opinion. We all know word of mouth is one of the best marketing tools. When someone sees Keyote, they remember an experience at a game and tell their friends, who have maybe never been to one before, which could end up in new business at the ballpark. One thing I learned over my time as Keyote is that no matter what kind of day you are having, good or bad, you always have to be energetic in that mascot suit. I really pride myself in putting out the best product, whether it is on the field or in the community, so giving my all at these appearance gave me the chance to network with different radio stations, schools, charitable organizations and more. I know that getting Keyote out into the community and representing the Keys at various events wherever I was needed played a big part in getting fans to come to ball games. Of course, as a mascot, you deal with some weird fans and experience some “unique” situations to say the least. I have been humped as Keyote by a litle girl at a Family Fitness Night, played mascot basketball and got taken out by an inflatable Smoothie King mascot, done zumba in 98 degree heat, ran a 1/4 mile with kids (yes…actually ran), done three appearances in three different parts of Maryland in one day, punched in the nuts at a Challenger Little League event – there are others, so feel free to contact me if you’d like to hear more about any of these stories.

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Me, as Keyote, running a 1/4 mile at the Frederick Running Festival

Keys for Reading

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Keys for Reading assemblies include a reading of Casey at the Bat, with mascot Keyote acting out the book.

The longest standing program for the Keys is the Keys for Reading program, which just completed its 18th year. Covering over 150 schools and 85,000 students in seven different counties, the reading program is a great link between education and baseball. The process begins in October and November, when myself along with other Keys staff members begin calling Reading Specialists from schools in different counties. Catching specialists when they are actually available is a miracle within itself. Most calls end in leaving messages with secretaries who may never end up giving your info to the teacher. Some schools do this program year after year, while others, well they just hang up on you right when they hear me say “This is Brandon Apter from the Frederick Keys about our reading program.” The basics of this program is that kids receive a bookmark (seen below). They read three books at their own reading level outside of school. After they complete the books, they get it signed by their parent and can redeem it for a free ticket to a Keys game. At the game, the kids participate in a Celebration of Readers parade, which includes getting to say their names on a podium in front of all of their families and friends. It is a really unique experience for kids, who get rewarded for reading books by getting to go to a Keys game for free. Some schools go more “all out” then others by posting bulletin boards in the main halls with Keys swag and reading reminders.

KFR Bookmark

After the schools are registered, then begins the boxing extravaganza. Once all of the bookmarks, school fliers and information sheets are delivered, an entire week (sometimes even more) is dedicated to boxing up all of the schools materials. An easy, yet tiring process, the boxes are then driven over to the post office, where they weigh and scan each box. Once the program kicks off, the appearances pick up a lot. The Keys offer two different types of school visits. One is an assembly, which involves a speaker talking about the program for 3-5 minutes followed by a reading of the famous poem, Casey at the Bat in a different rendition called Keyote at the Bat. After Keyote finishes acting out the book, there is a short Q & A about the program, which almost always ends up in a kid asking if Keyote is real, if his mask can be taken off or just randomly telling us about something completely unrelated to Keyote or the reading program. One series of questions was particularly unusual. The kid asked me why Keyote was wearing a belt. I answered that it was to keep his pants from falling down, to which the kid responded “why doesn’t he just take off his pants?”. After that, I promptly ended the Q & A session and let Keyote say his goodbyes. The other type of school visit involved a 1-2 minute speech on how the program runs and then Keyote goes around an hi fives kids at lunch in the cafeteria, which almost always ends in complete chaos.

The first year of the Keys for Reading program, we figured we would reward schools with the best numbers with an appearance by the Keyote Karavan. Over one week, we visited 10 schools, sometimes two or three per day. The Karavan idea was scrapped because of the amount of time it took from place to place and it was tough to do it with the season approaching, if it hadn’t already begun. It was a really tough part of the program because I could never really sit down and breathe, it was always an appearance every day. That being said, the Karavan concept likely drove more kids and families out to the ballpark and it was a beneficial experiment in the end.

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Keyote visits an elementary school as part of the Keyote Karavan

My first Keys for Reading experience was an interesting one. I went with our Creative Production Manager, Paul, who now works for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I hadn’t really done too much research into the program, but I knew what it was and how it worked for the most part. While driving to the school, I assumed I would be Keyote for the first go at it, but apparently Paul had a different idea. Thrown right into the fire, I winged about a seven minute speech on the importance of reading in baseball. For the circumstances, I think it went well. Although I was furious at the fact that I was not aware I would be speaking, it is that appearance that made speaking in the future so much easier. I hated my speech class in college but now I can speak in front of large audiences of 500-600 without an issue and I can thank the Keys for Reading program, and of course Paul, for that.

I’ll conclude this first part with a video from this past offseason. I doubled as myself and then Keyote in the other scenes.

Key Notes

*Pocket scheduling is a large part of grassroots marketing here in Frederick. Beginning in the middle of February, we go and deliver out pocket schedules to local business and this happens pretty much everyday until August. In 2011, we distributed close to 275k, in 2012 we got out close to 265k and this season we managed to get out 250k. The number in 2011 was more than the two years previous combined. People grabbing these pocket schedules can play a large part in attendance increase over a span of a few years.

*If you are interested in seeing my mascot basketball skills (or lack thereof), click here or here.

*Here is a spoof video of the Fiat commercial from the Superbowl in 2012. View the original here.

Finding the Silver Lining in the 2013 Phillies

The Phanatic is sometimes the only entertainment while watching the Phillies this season

19.5 games out of first place. Only 7.5 games ahead of the abysmal Miami Marlins. A record of 52-65. We knew that this year wasn’t going to be as good as ’07-’11, but I am not sure any one of us could have predicted the horrendous performance by the Phillies this year. They have lost 17 out of their last 20 games since the All-Star Break and continue to free fall behind poor offensive showings and inconsistent bullpen performance. It is tough to see any good in this season of terrible, but let’s take a look at some things we can look for once the season ends, into what 2014 may bring for the Phils.

Manuel has 779 wins as Phillies manager

The future of Phillies skipper, Charlie Manuel, is unknown to us right now, but any one can guess that this will be his final season as manager of the Phils. He has a .551 (779-634) overall winning percentage with the Phillies since coming aboard in 2005. He helped bring a championship to Philadelphia, two World Series appearances and five NL Division Titles. Despite the 81-81 record from last year and everything the team is going through this season, Charlie deserves to go out on a good note. If you ask me, I don’t see what the team loses by announcing that Charlie Manuel’s last season in Philly will be 2013, so we can pay tribute to what he has done for this team, rather than just what has gone on recently. Currently going through the roughest stretch in his managerial career, Charlie commented on things after the Phillies 6-0 loss to the Nationals on Sunday.

“What you see is what it is,” Manuel said. “Usually you’re not going to win by not scoring any runs, first of all. But at the same time, if you’re not playing good that’s usually what happens. You start trying too hard and you have to make plays. You guys heard me talk all the time about, ‘have to.’ This is a game where you do it because you want to do it and because you can. Not because you have to. ‘Have to’ creates tension and pressure. And thinking. Fear of failure creeps in on you. If you can put that aside and not dwell with it and try to master what you’re doing, things will work out for you.”

This will likely be Charlie’s last season with the Phils, with Ryne Sandberg first in line for the 2014 Manager position.

With Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay injured, we have gotten to see some of the Phillies young talent show what they have at the major league level. Darin Ruf, Cody Asche and most notably Domonic Brown, have been bright spots in a lost season.

Dom Brown has been the star of the 2013 Phillies after being given the chance to play every day

Dom Brown has been the consistent glimmer of hope this year for everyone, despite his recent stint on the disabled list. Before 2013, Dom was never given a chance to play every day (56 games in both 2011 & 2012), but he has shown that he can be an everyday MLB outfielder. His defense isn’t amazing, but has improved a lot and his offensive numbers are good for his first full year. Through 105 games, Dom is hitting .274 with 26 homers and 76 RBI. His numbers were good enough to earn him an appearance in the All-Star Game.

Ruf belted 38 homers in 2012 with the Double-A Reading Fightin Phils

Darin Ruf has split time between first base and the outfield, but he is likely to see most of his time in the outfield with Ryan Howard slated to come back as the every day first baseman in 2014. Through 29 games with the Phillies, Ruf is hitting .280 with six home runs and 11 RBI. His power has been on display lately, with homers in three of his last four games and seven of his 11 RBI over his last 10 games. I don’t think we can come to expect Ruf to become a Gold Glove outfielder, but I believe he will be able to play the position well enough to where his offensive numbers cover up any defensive blunders. Combining his numbers from 2012 and 2013, he has a solid .293 average with nine home runs and 21 RBI over 41 games.

Cody Asche is the most recent Phils prospect to join the big league club

Cody Asche is the most recent beneficiary of the Phillies struggles, getting to see plenty of playing time at third base while Michael Young nurses a hamstring issue. Drafted in the 4th round of 2011, Asche hasn’t burst out offensively, but that shouldn’t be a worry for fans just yet. In an article from Comcast Sportsnet, Jordan Hall points out that Ryan Howard had slow starting issues while filling in for Jim Thome – “When Jim Thome hit the DL in May of 2005, Howard was promoted to fill his shoes, but went 1 for his first 19 (.053) and 6 for 28 (.214) before being demoted back to the minors.” The reason why there isn’t reason to be concerned yet is because Asche’s never been a quick starter at any level. At Double A last season, he started by hitting .119 but ended at .300. At Triple A this season, Asche started at .171 with just one home run, but a .313 June and .318 July led to a .298 average, 15 home runs and 68 RBIs before the Phillies promoted him to the bigs. He has played only 12 games thus far, hitting .194 with a homer and four RBI. Hopefully Asche’s increased amount of playing time will show offensively in due time. In the meantime, he is a step up defensively from Michael Young.

Pettibone is currently on the disabled list with a right shoulder strain

The last player to touch on is a pitcher, Jonathan Pettibone. Although his ERA sits just above four, he has done a good job in keeping the Phillies in games. Before hitting the DL with a shoulder strain, Pettibone gave up three earned runs or less in eight of his last ten starts, including matchups against the Dodgers, Tigers, Pirates and Braves. Pettibone doesn’t have stuff that will blow anybody away, but he can hit his spots in the zone. He’s started 18 games for the Phillies this year and should take his spot in the rotation back from Ethan Martin when his shoulder heals.

Phils 3B prospect Maikel Franco is hitting .342 with nine homers and 34 RBI this season in Double-A

Even though the Phillies are extremely tough to watch, veteran Chase Utley (.278, 15HR, 45RBI) has been producing regularly and Ben Revere, currently out with a broken foot, was hitting .305 with 22 stolen bases before his injury.  Prospects like Maikel Franco (hitting .342 in Double-A), Jesse Biddle (3.76 ERA as a starter in Double-A), Adam Morgan (3.77 ERA as a starter in Triple-A) and Cesar Hernandez (hitting .310 in Triple-A) are reasons to believe that they have the pieces in the making to (hopefully) become more competitive in the coming years. As far as the bullpen goes, well that is a thought for another day.

Battle of the Beltway – Camden Yards vs. Nats Park

The past two days, I have the pleasure of seeing the Orioles and Nationals play each other in both ballparks. Although I haven’t been to an extensive amount of major league stadiums in my life, I have frequented these two over the past couple of years. Let’s take a look at which one offers the best baseball experience and overall fan atmosphere.

Nationals Park

First Thoughts: Nats ParkWhen heading down to DC for a Nats game, it is about a 40-50 minute metro ride to the Navy Yard stop where the ballpark is. After you exit the stop that leaves you outside the ballpark, you are greeted with a large tailgate party area, vendors selling food and water (that you can actually bring in!) and that is about it. There isn’t much to do around the Nats ballpark other than check out what the party area offers. The area is called “The Bullpen” (how clever) and although I have never actually been in there, it looks like a cool spot to take in a few beverages before first pitch and after the final out.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Camden Yards - After trekking on I-70 and a little bit of I-95, the entry into the city of Baltimore is really unique. You drive right around the Ravens Stadium and pretty much right into downtown Baltimore. While driving may be a bit more hectic than the metro, I believe that the scenery that B-More offers on the drive in is something that adds to the experience. After parking in a garage a few blocks away and heading towards the ballpark, there is a sea of orange and black at the bars across the street from OPACY that fans gather in before and after games. Pickles Pub & Slides offer a cool experience to drink with your fellow O’s fan while consuming some drinks and perhaps some beer battered pickles (my favorite!) VerdictWhile the outdoor party area in DC seems more spaced out than the bars outside of Oriole Park and they let you bring in water, the whole ambiance of being right in downtown Baltimore is a cooler experience for me. I am going to give the opening salve to Camden Yards.

Eutaw Street at OPACY

Unique Stadium Features: Camden YardsRight out of the gates, I am going to come out and say the concourse at OPACY is much spacier than that of Nats Park. I don’t really think it has to do anything with the amount of fans, but there is just more walking area. Moving on…Eutaw Street is one of the coolest things I have ever seen. Maybe it is because I am a sports nerd, but it is just an awesome sight when the stadium is packed with fans. Obviously you have the historical warehouse in right field and plaques on the sidewalk that have names on it of players that have hit homers there. They also recently added a center field bar area to the stadium. Nats Park - The scoreboard walk area is what I found to be the most unique at Nats Park. Behing their enormous scoreboard, there are some great places to get food and a cool couch area to sit in if you would like to take a load off and eat your dinner. You can also check out a cool bar/restaurant area known as the Red Porch. There is a full service restaurant and bar on the bottom floor and a pretty awesome view of the game from center field as well.

The Red Porch at Nats Park

Verdict - While it seems like this one is a bit of a stalemate, I am going to give this one to Camden Yards. Eutaw Street is just one of those really unique aspects of a ballpark that is tough to top. I’ll give it to Nats Park on this one though, it was a tough choice.

Food: Nats Park - As I mentioned in the previous section, Nats Park has the scoreboard walk area that offers a lot of really good food items. There’s the Shake Shack, El Verano Taquiera and Blue Smoke BBQ – all have great tasting food on the menu. On Tuesday night, I consumed a double shake shack burger with their shack sauce, which added some zest to the burger. While my body might hate me for it, the burger was really good. I had the steak tacos at El Verano last year  at a game and they were small but extremely delicious. Next time, I am heading to Blue Smoke BBQ. Nats Park offers a cool Taste of the Majors stand as well. When other teams are in town, they offer a food item from that city. They have a stand, Ben’s Chili Bowl, that sells some awesome eats, including chili dogs, chili tots and chili fries. Camden Yards - I honestly haven’t really tried any super unique items at an Orioles game when it came to food, but maybe I haven’t looked hard enough. They have some good choices when it comes to their concourse items, including crab cakes. Located under the green tent behind the center field bleachers on Eutaw Street is Boog’s BBQ. During many Orioles home games, Boog Powell, the former All-Star first baseman, can be found signing autographs and serving up some of Maryland’s finest barbecue beef, pork, and turkey. Boog’s BBQ is also served in the All-Star Café on the Oriole Park Club Level. They have a couple of pubs in the stadium, which is cool but a little overpriced for my tastes. Verdict - I am going to give this one to Nats Park. Their scoreboard walk food options are better in my book and their stadium hot dogs are Hebrew National, which are my favorite.

The Seats: Camden Yards - The seating bowl area at Camden Yards is really nice. It is different than a lot of stadiums I have been in and just looks very state of the art. The left field seats are really close to the field, which is completely different from Nats Park. It almost feels like you are only five feet from the field. The club level in OPACY is also nice. They have plenty of trophies and gold glove awards from year’s past to check out as well. The suites are really nice, but so are most. The closer you get to the field, the better the seats get. I sat in section 46 this week, which is a level up from the field and the seats were padded! Nats Park - The seating bowl area at Nats Park really isn’t that exciting. It bares a striking resemblance to Citizens Bank Park with the layout and there really isn’t much about it that screams “new” even though the ballpark is one of the newest in MLB. They have a really sweet deal on Tuesday night’s for $5 tickets, which I took full advantage of, but both stadiums have their respective ticket deals. Verdict - This one definitely goes to Camden Yards. The ballpark is much older than Nats Park, but has a newer feel to it. Nats Park just comes off kind of uniform when it comes to a ballpark, and it doesn’t really offer much in the aspect of state of the art. It is very basic in my opinion.

Apter Thoughts - Although food is a big part of the ballpark experience, Camden Yards is just a better overall atmosphere for a game. I do like the Nats Park PA Announcer better than the O’s but unfortunately, that didn’t make a difference. If you are looking to go to a game at either one of the two, I suggest going to Camden Yards for the downtown city feel, a cool ballpark experience and perhaps a crabcake, if you like that kinda stuff.

Thanks for reading!

The Friday Four – Brown Stays Hot; Flyers Struggle

Dom Brown is hitting .426 with three homers this spring with the Phillies

1. Phillies Brown & Howard keep spring bats hot

Despite the Phillies subpar 6-7 record this spring, fans are keeping their eyes on the Phils offense. First baseman Ryan Howard and outfielder Dom Brown have been drawing a lot of attention this spring, and it is deserved. Brown has adjusted his stance and seems more comfortable at the plate while Ryan Howard is coming back strong after a season that was shortened by his Achilles injury in 2012.

Let’s talk quickly about Brown first. If you have watched or listened to any Phillies coverage this season, the thing surrounding Dom is his confidence and his approach. He changed his hand position on the bat and it seems to be working out well for him. When interviewed in late February, Brown stated he is just trying to simplify.

 “I’m just keeping it simple. Just going up there and making sure my approach is good. I’m seeing the ball well and trying to swing at strikes. I wouldn’t say I’ve changed approach, just fine tuning. That’s it. … I making sure I’m going out there and working hard and not putting pressure on myself and having fun and doing it because I want to do it like Chuck always says. I’m out there because I want to do it, not because they’re forcing me to do it.”

He talked about his success this spring thus far with Phillies beat reporter, Todd Zolecki yesterday as well.

“It’s definitely a confidence booster,” Brown said. “The thing about it is, with the hitting coaches we have, they don’t let you take an at-bat off. If I do something during an at-bat, they’re saying something to me when I get back to the dugout, even if I get a hit on the next pitch. That keeps me focused.”

Let’s move on to Ryan Howard, who many consider to still be a contractual nightmare. I don’t completely disagree, but if he fully recovers, there is no reason we shouldn’t see 30-40 homers and 100+ RBI this year. Through 12 games this spring, Howard is hitting .364 with three homers and 11 RBI. After playing 14 straight games, Howard got the day off today. In a CSNPhilly.com article by Jim Salisbury, Charlie Manuel planned for Howard to play this much.

“If you’re going to play 162 games, you’ve got to get in shape to play 300,” Manuel said.

Manuel, of course, was kidding about playing Howard in 162 games. He’ll get days off during the season. But Manuel is serious about having Howard come into the season ready to go, especially after the slugging first baseman missed all of spring training and half of the regular season last year as he recovered from a torn left Achilles tendon.

“I felt like we had to get him in shape,” Manuel said. “He’s getting to where we want him. Hard work never hurt nobody. He’ll be in shape. I’ll monitor him and he’ll get his time off.”

2. Flyers fall to Rangers and Pens this week

After finally reaching the .500 mark, the Flyers entered a tough stretch, two games that have been played already. On Tuesday night, they got beaten by the Rangers, and last night they blew a 4-1 lead over the Pens and lost 5-4. The best way to describe the Flyers this year would have to be disappointing yet still undefined. With 23 points, they are sitting at 11th place in the Eastern Conference with 23 games left to play. The biggest hole in the team at this point seems to be defense. They are older with Timonen and Grossman and lack the experience with their young guys in Gustafsson, Gervais and others. The defensive breakdowns and lack of offensive consistency (with the exception of Voracek and Simmonds). Chris Pronger spoke to the media for the first time since late 2011 and shed his light on the defense.

“I would say they’re like the rest of the team,” Pronger said. “We’re just a little inconsistent right now with mistakes. It’s not always the same guy making the mistakes. I think we need to just make the game simple.

Voracek leads the team with 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists), while Giroux and Simmonds follow with 24 and 19 respectively. Goaltending has also been an issue this year. Although Bryz has looked a little better than last year, he has still looked very out of place on plenty of goals. In yesterday’s game against the Penguins, coach Laviolette kept things pretty basic when it came to explaining the first-to-second period change.

“The second period was not a good period,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “It was the opposite of the first period. In the first period, we were skating, we were physical, we put the puck behind them and looked to establish our game. And in the second period, they picked up their game, we stopped working. The second period went to them.”

Zac Rinaldo, in a recent CSNPhilly column, said that the team is not worried about where they are right now. Are you?

3. Sixers continue season downfall

I am not one to root for my teams to fail to get a draft pick, but with how ugly the Sixers (23-37) are playing right now, I really see nothing to gain by winning. The season is a huge disappointment, with the Bynum saga and and another “eh” year from draft bust Evan Turner. John Gonzalez of CSNPhilly wrote his thoughts on whether or not the Sixers should tank for the lottery. Find that article here. Doug Collins spoke about the team and winning in the column.

“To play every game to win,” Collins said without hesitation. “We’ve still got younger guys that we’re trying to develop and grow. And we want to win. We’re going to play to win every single game and keep the spirits high. … Keep guys positive, keep them competing, keep them having fun. You know, I want them to have fun playing and not make it look like they’re playing out the string. I’ve never been in that situation before. You’re sort of asking someone who’s foreign to that. I’ve never done that. From our standpoint, we’re going to try to play hard every single night and compete.”

The lone bright spots this season are obvious in Jrue Holiday and Thad Young. Heading into tonight’s game against Miami - yikes - Jrue is average 19 points and 8.6 assists per game while Thad is averaging 14.7 points and 7.7 rebounds. What is lacking in the Sixers game? A big man. Thad Young and Evan Turner both average more boards than Spencer Hawes, who has been defined as nothing less than a soft defender. The strength of this team last year was the bench. Sure, Nick Young pretty much replaced Lou Williams, but Lou brought an attitude to the game and team that seems to be missing. The loss of Jason Richardson doesn’t help either, but his days were numbered as is.

Where should this franchise go from here? Other than regretting this Bynum trainwreck, I think it is time to cut the losses and restructure. Thad and Jrue are the keys to this team, but I wouldn’t want Bynum re-signed and I wouldn’t mind seeing Evan Turner traded while he is still worth something. In three words, I’ve given up. If you need another reason – here you go - During the final stretch of the season, they must play Miami, the L.A. Clippers, Denver, Utah, Atlanta again, Miami again, Brooklyn and Indiana….and most are on the road. My final record prediction? 28-54.

4. Eagles bits and pieces

Reuben Frank analyzes the five best and worst free agent signings for the Eagles here. Among the worse are Nnamdi and Vince Young while Jon Runyan and Troy Vincent make the best.

If you haven’t heard, Freddie “Fred Ex” Mitchell, best known for his 4th and 26 catch, faces up to 10 years in prison for being a part of a tax fraud scheme. More details on that here.

Another Eagles front office member is heading to join Reid with the Cheifs. Top scout Brett Veach is headed to KC. This is quite unfortunate, especially with the draft upcoming. Veach talked about his new opporunity on CSNPhilly.com.

“Basically, an opportunity presented itself in Kansas City to be a part of Coach Reid’s staff again and [general manager] John Dorsey staff, and it was an opportunity I was excited about,” Veach, a native of Mount Carmel, Pa., and former University of Delaware standout, told CSNPhilly.com.

Veach said he left on great terms with the Eagles, calling his time there “six unbelieveable years” of learning under general manager Howie Roseman, former player personnel chief Ryan Grigson (now the Colts’ general manager) and director of college scouting Anthony Patch.

“Those guys taught me everything I know to this point,” Veach said. “You’re talking about three really sharp minds that I learned from every day.”

Upcoming schedule - This weekend the Sixers face the Heat tonight at 8PM and then head to Orlando for a 6PM match-up on Sunday. The Flyers will try to rebound from two straight losses as they travel to Boston for a 1PM matchup against the Bruins. They quickly head home afterwards for a Sunday night match-up against the Sabres at 7:30PM.

Thanks for reading

-BA

Turnbuckle Talk – Old School Raw Thoughts

When I heard about Old School Raw, I was really excited. Although the night was still mainly focused on setting a tone for Wrestlemania, I was eager to see what was in store. As a guy who watched wrestling back in the early to mid 90′s, guys like Duggan, Ted Dibiase and others were a large part of my generation. When I tuned in, I expected a lot and was disappointed. Things started off well, with the Undertaker, who still has it at 50 years old, making an entrance to start the Wrestlemania hype with his streak at the big event. When he lifted his hands and the Wrestlemania logo appeared, it kind of set a standard for the rest of the show. That was followed by the old school Raw theme song, that immediately brought me back to my childhood.

While it was cool to see the announcers, including Jerry “The King”, dressed as the commentators used to, it wasn’t really one of those things that I noticed right away. The show began with an angle involving who would eventually square off against “Taker” at Mania. While I understand building up the angle is necessary in any TV show drama, this wasn’t even mildly entertaining in my eyes. Bad script and even worse acting by CM Punk, The Big Show and others. Like I said, I get that each of the guys had to say “why” they deserve to face Undertaker, but in the old school days a 15-20 minute period of time spent just “talking” never really happened. Let’s get to the legends, the main reason I watched this whole thing.

I have a picture of me with the Honky Tonk Man from back in the day and seeing him smash the guitar over Slater’s head made me smile as well as Dibiase doing his thing. Seeing Ric Flair was cool, but I feel like he wasn’t used quite as well as he could have been. The best part, if you ask me, was seeing the match that involved Billy Gunn and Road Dogg. It had a very old school ambiance to it and it was that feeling that I was waiting for the entire show. The most disappointing part of all of this is no matter how popular Flair was or how good the Billy Gunn match was, the whole match involving Duggan, Sgt. Slaughter and the American Dream, Dusty Rhodes was absolute crap. The entire crowd always gets into Duggan, chanting U-S-A and yelling HOOOO, but the WWE disappointed. After about a minute of wrestling, Duggan’s opponent grabbed his 2 x 4 board and jabbed him in the chest. After that, Slaughter and Rhodes tried to intervene, but they just took “hits” by Hacksaws board and fell to the mat with no fight in them. If you ask me, that was an insulting way to bring back those legends. Sure, they are old, but I am pretty sure everyone in attendance would’ve like to have seen Hacksaw triumph with a victory, right tough guys? A night like this was to see them take the new age of the WWE and put an old school feel to it and that whole match just left a sour taste in my mouth. I get they are older, but seeing them be more physical would’ve been more cool. Maybe I just expected too much, oh well.

All in all, I think I would’ve been better served playing some PS3 rather than waiting for three hours to see mediocrity. Maybe one day, wrestling will get as intense and nerve-wracking as it once was for me, but it definitely doesn’t seem to be going in that direction. Wrestling is sports entertainment, but it is heading more towards where Nascar is in the scheme of things….just entertainment. Nascar is watched for wrecks, which seem to happen every now and then while the WWE is watched for wrestling, which now also seems to happen every now and then.

Like someone told me about the show last night, it was an “abortion”. Agreed.

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