Saturday, August 28, 2010

Chuck Greenberg Interview

On Wednesday August 25th, I interviewed Rangers Managing Partner and CEO Chuck Greenberg in his office at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. I would like to thank Chuck for doing this interview with me. It was extremely nice of him to do this for me, and I really appreciate it.

As the interview started I noticed a book on Chuck’s desk about Target Field (the Twins’ new ballpark).

Me: I just went to Target Field this summer.

Chuck: Did you? That’s where the owners’ meetings were where we were approved, so I didn’t see a game. I haven’t gone on a road trip yet but I’m going to catch the last two games of the Kansas City series and then go on with the team to Minnesota.

Me: It’s a great ballpark.

Chuck: Yeah, it’s really nice. It’s interesting how the engineering as evolved. It’s the same architect that did PNC Park in Pittsburgh, which I’m pretty familiar with, but to see how the engineering has evolved and how they’re able to get the seats right on top of the field. It’s steeper but it just gets you so much closer to the action. It’s really well done.

Me: It is and you need to see Target Plaza outside the park. That’s awesome.

Chuck: Yeah, I will, I’ll definitely do that. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to everything.

Me: What made you interested in owning a baseball team and when did you become interested?

Chuck: I always loved baseball growing up. I loved following it, playing it, reading about it. I read about it all the time. I taught myself to read by reading about baseball. When I was on the school bus, I’d be reading about baseball. When I’d be walking down the aisle going off of the school bus, I’d be reading about baseball. Just all the time. My uncle and I would have these crazy baseball trivia quizzes. He first became a fan in 1948 so there was a time where my knowledge of baseball ran deepest in the 40’s and 50’s because it was the time he was most knowledgeable about. So I always loved the game and then played it growing up and in the first couple of years of college. And then when my sons were born, one of the first pictures of my oldest, he’s only a couple of hours old and he has a baseball in his hand. I managed all of my kids’ teams. When my oldest could barely talk, he knew the last names of the Pirates’ starting lineup. That’s how big a part of our household it was.

Me: I was the same way.

Chuck: Yeah? I believe it. Even your email address (grantlovesbaseball), it makes me smile every time because I can relate. So baseball just ran deep throughout every facet of my life. And then my middle son began playing on a team in 2001 and our first tournament we went to Reading, Pennsylvania, which has a great minor league team, the Reading Phillies. It was a really good weekend. His name’s Jack. He had 10 straight hits and everyone started calling him Jack-o-Matic, which was pretty good. I went to my first minor league baseball game. It was Reading versus Akron. I was sitting there and I said ‘This is great. This is so much fun. This looks like a pretty decent business too.’ And then lo and behold about two months later, the two fellows who owned the Altoona franchise in the same league called me. They were having a dispute with one another. They sued each other and they decided the only way to settle their dispute was to sell. And they knew about the work I had done in the sports industry so they were familiar with my name. And they said, ‘Hey, we thought maybe you’d be interested in buying the franchise.’ And I said, ‘What a great idea’ because I’d just been in Reading a couple of months earlier. (The team) was a hundred miles from my house so I said ‘great’. So that was my first opportunity and I ended up hiring the fellow who’d been the number two person in Reading a couple of years earlier and he was my right-hand guy as we built it up.

Altoona was just a tremendous experience. Minor league baseball is a small fraternity and if you do a good job and you have some success, when you go to the winter meetings, everyone calls out your name and wants you to come over to see if you’ll buy their franchise. So the athletic director at Penn State contacted me one day. They’d been trying to build a new baseball facility for a long long time and hadn’t been able to get it off the ground. He said, ‘I see what you’re doing in Altoona and you might be the kind of guy who can get this done.’ I thought, ‘Well, that’s interesting,’ and we studied the market and we thought it was a good possibility for a short season team, not a full season team. And so eventually we put a deal together to get a ballpark built and they allowed me to oversee the design of it, so we hired the design and construction firm and we ended up designing the first LEED-certified baseball park anywhere, which is an environmental certification. Now they all want to be that. We were actually the first one in the country to do that. So we bought a team in New Jersey, moved it there and also bought the team in Myrtle Beach.

So 2006 was a busy year. We opened this new ballpark, bought Myrtle Beach, and at the end of the 2006 season, Altoona was named the best franchise in all of minor league baseball, which was a culmination of a period of three years when we won all three of the major awards you can win in minor league baseball. No franchise had ever won them over such a short period of time or at such a young age. At our peak in Altoona, our attendance was about nine times the population of Altoona, which would be like the Rangers drawing 50 million people a year. It was crazy. So we had a great run in Altoona, sold Altoona at the end of 2008, still have Myrtle Beach and State College, and then in early 2009, I got a phone call from someone who said, ‘Hey, I think the Rangers may be available and would you be interested in looking at it with me?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ So I came down and looked at it and I thought this was just an unbelievable opportunity because, even though the team wasn’t playing well and had not been good in a while, you could see it was a good young team. I was very familiar, because of my activities in minor league baseball, with the team’s minor league system. I knew that it was loaded. And even though the support that the team had had did not translate into strong attendance, knowing how sports-crazed the region is and comparing that with how unsuccessful the Rangers had been on the field through most of their history, I thought this was the perfect opportunity. Because you have a community that loves its sports, that hasn’t had the chance to fall in love with the Rangers for a long time, but where good things were not too far in the distance.

And if we could have the success of the team coupled with the real fan friendly approach that we always used in the minor leagues, we could really catch lightning in a bottle and this could be one of those franchises where you look back and say ‘How could it not have always been this way?’ Like no one remembers with the Red Sox that ten years ago you could get a ticket whenever you wanted to. The Angels, even after they won the World Series, drew 2.3 million. And then new ownership came in, changed the way they did things, and connected with the community. And all of the sudden now there’s Red Sox Nation and you see the Angels ‘A’ everywhere. It wasn’t like that relatively recently. So I thought that, here in the community that’s the largest market in the whole country that only has one major league baseball team, when you combine all of those other factors, there was a chance for some really special things here. So I fell in love with the possibilities almost immediately. And then went through quite an interesting process for 15 and a half months. But I always believed that it was worth it. And after having been here when the team was struggling on the field and when no one was going to games, to let someone come in in the bottom of the ninth and take this thing, that just wasn’t going to happen. Myself and Nolan are just too competitive for that. I wish it would have been easier but there was no way it was going to end otherwise.

(Laughs) Was that a short answer or a long answer?

Me: So that’s interesting that that’s how you moved the Cardinals to State College.

Chuck: Yeah, what happened is that the team that we bought had to have a lease agreement that allowed it to relocate. So there were only a couple of options in the league and one of them was the New Jersey Cardinals and it so happened that the owner of that franchise I knew well because he had owned a team in the Eastern League that Altoona was in, so we had a relationship. Like I said, it’s kind of a small fraternity. And so I mentioned it to him and he said, ‘Well actually I was thinking about selling my franchise and the lease allows you to relocate.’ We never operated it in New Jersey. We bought it right around the end of the calendar year 2005 and we relocated it by opening day 2006.

Me: Why did you decide to sell the Curve in 2008?

Chuck: You know, I loved the Curve and the people there. It was a great experience. I’ve said many times that without all of the things that we were able to do and the relationships we built in Altoona, I wouldn’t be here. All of the successes that we had and the way that we did things in Altoona are a huge part of the storyline that ultimately gave me the opportunity to be here. We’d done it for seven years there and had overachieved to epic proportions. I mean, to draw close to 400,000 fans with a population of 46,000 is not normal. And it was really, really hard work. They’re tremendous passionate baseball fans but there just weren’t a lot of people. Even when we’d market over a 60 mile radius, we had to have tremendous success in reaching people to have attendance like that. It got to where you’d start to think about people who used to go to 60 games a year and now they only go to 40 games a year. Does that make them a bad fan? No, they’re still pretty special. So it was going to become harder and harder to continue to grow. Our folks there had worked really, really hard and they were starting to get a little bit burned out and were looking for a new challenge, and I felt a tremendous amount of loyalty for them. So they wanted to try to do some different things and this was a way to do it. So when I sold Altoona, some of the people migrated to State College and some of them joined me at a new consulting company that I formed that does consulting work for other franchises. It was just the right timing.

Plus one of the two original owners of the Curve was interested in buying it back. So it was really a nice situation because he had never really wanted to sell. It was because he had this dispute with his partner. So it was a nice story and a good example about why it’s always so important to treat people well. It’s just the way I was raised. But here we were, I had bought the franchise from this gentleman, we had had this great success with it, and who’d I sell it to? Him. We got along great. It would have been easy for me to want to disassociate him from the franchise or him to resent whatever success we were having. It was the opposite. It was great. I was able to hand it back over to him. It was something that he and his family had originally dreamed up and it’s a nice story that they now get to go on and have the future that they originally thought they were going to have.

Me: It’s pretty cool that he got it back.

Chuck: Yeah, definitely.

Me: What sports did you play growing up and which were you best at?

Chuck: I played baseball, football, and basketball. They were kind of the three standard sports when I was growing up. Messed around a tiny little bit with hockey. I loved hockey but there weren’t very many places to skate.

Me: I still don’t know how to skate.

Chuck: Well, as my sons, who were all very good hockey players, would tell you, I’m a lousy skater. So I followed all of the sports avidly but those were the three that I played. Baseball was my best sport. I was a left-handed pitcher and first baseman. I threw hard but I didn’t know where. I had a good glove but I didn’t have much of a stick, which as a baseball player makes you a really good candidate to go to law school. So I loved playing, I really did, but I knew a couple of years into college that I kind of hit the ceiling. I had the chance to do a government internship program my junior year, which was a great experience and was going to open a lot of doors, so I did that.

Me: Yeah, I’m the exact opposite as a pitcher. I’m a righty, I don’t throw too hard, but I have good control.

Chuck: Well, as long as you don’t throw it down the middle, that can work really well. You know what the funny thing is though? Then when I coached my boys, I would throw BP for eight hours a day and I could put it exactly where everybody wanted me to. I thought, ‘If I could have had this kind of control when I was growing up…’ Of course, I wasn’t trying to throw hard. Big difference.

Me: So who was your favorite player and why?

Chuck: Growing up?

Me: Yes.

Chuck: Oh, it was Clemente. I loved Roberto Clemente. He played so hard. He’d hit a two-hopper back to the pitcher and he’d be sprinting full speed down the first base line. He had a grace and an elegance in the way he played that was like nobody else. Plus being Pittsburgh, we all were kind of sensitive about people looking down their nose a little bit at Pittsburgh. And Roberto was a guy who never really got his due on the national stage for a long, long time. In the ’71 World Series, he put on one of the most dominant World Series performances ever. And all of the sudden the whole country discovered him and he was a superstar. And there was great pride that we took that our guy had finally been discovered. And then the way he lived his life and the tragic circumstances of his death really speak to his integrity and the kind of person and player he was. He was really special to me.

Me: Yeah, he was a great guy. So, did you want to be involved in sports as a kid and, if so, in what capacity?

Chuck: I would have loved to keep playing it for a long time but at some point for most of us, reality kicks in and it’s time for plan B. So I always thought that the dream job would be to run the Pirates. I mean, the hometown team and the one you grew up with, wouldn’t that be great. Or at least to find a way to be involved in sports in some capacity. But I had absolutely no game plan on how to do it. I mean I’ve spoken many, many times to students, at college or law school, and they all want to know what my plan was. Well, I didn’t really have a plan. I had a desire but I did not have a plan. One of my all-time favorite quotes is that luck is where preparation meets opportunity. I don’t know where I read that but I read it somewhere a long time ago and I really believe in that because it’s a more eloquent way of saying you can make your own luck.

Because I always loved sports, I wanted to be a part of it. I didn’t know how, but I would read like crazy about the business of sports, about the industry and the people in it and the issues of the day. And then in 1987, I got introduced to Mario Lemieux early in his hockey career. He had an issue - he was building his first home - and I was friends with his new agents. And I said. ‘Hey, I might be able to help with that.’ So they introduced me to him and I fixed the problem. We hit it off personally and professionally. I was never his agent but I did his legal work. And from knowing him, I started to meet a lot of other people in the industry. And because I had read so much about it, I could talk a pretty decent game. So I’d meet up with other owners or players or agents, people around the game, and from that I was able to fit in and people started entrusting me with other opportunities. So before you know it, I’m doing work for teams and owners and learning more all the time.

So, on the one hand it was really lucky that I met Mario, because almost everything I’ve done in my career, I can trace back without too many degrees of separation to just having the good fortune of being introduced to him in 1987. But on the other hand, without ever knowing if an opportunity would come, where it would come from, or how it would come, in a way, I sort of prepared for it because of all these things I would read about the industry. So luck is where preparation meets opportunity. Without realizing it, I was preparing. Opportunity came my way when I met him and I look back and say, “Wow, I was really lucky I met Mario’.

Me: Yeah, I’m the same way. I want to play baseball but if I can’t to that, I want to do something with sports. Journalism, hopefully.

Chuck: I believe that.

Me: How big a role did you play in getting Mario Lemieux ownership of the Penguins?

Chuck: Pretty significant role. It was a small group of us who, along with Mario, worked at this every day for 11 months. I was sure when it was over, it would be the craziest deal and set of circumstances I’d ever have to deal with, but it now holds the silver medal for that one. But I was very involved in all that. I helped him put the ownership group together. I did the projections and the business plan. I renegotiated all of the major deals the franchise was a party to. I helped hire the management team. It was a lot because we didn’t have the capital to go out and hire the kind of expert team of advisors that for example I did with the Rangers acquisition. There were a few of us kind of winging it. So that was an unbelievable experience which prepared me very well for a lot of things that have happened in the 11 or 12 years since then.

The key there was that I was just adamant that whatever decisions we made, we were either going to do it right or not do it at all. Sometimes you can’t settle for what you can get, you have to know what you can’t live without. So we had to drive a really hard bargain on a lot of things because the franchise was so messed up that if we had gone forward with anything even resembling the type of deals they had in a number of different areas, the franchise would have been doomed to just fall back into bankruptcy again. There were a lot of instances where I had to tell someone, ‘Look, I understand you were doing it one way and now it has to be a completely different way. And maybe that doesn’t make sense for you and it’s not my place to tell you what does or doesn’t make sense to you. But I do have to be honest with you and tell you if you can’t do it this way, we’re not going forward.’ So ultimately we got it done and it was a great experience. It helped me quite a bit with what I just went through with the Rangers. But it was a pretty wild process on its own.

Me: And they’re a much better team now than they were then too.

Chuck: Well, you know they were actually pretty decent then. And then Mario came back and they were really good. And then when he retired again, the team went downhill in a hurry. And then came the lockout, the economic situation changed, and it gave franchises in smaller markets a little more of a chance. Then of course they won the lottery to get Sidney Crosby and they got Malkin and Fleury and all the guys. Now they were just ranked as the hottest brand in sports. So if we could emulate that, it wouldn’t be bad.

Me: No, it wouldn’t be bad at all. Now that you own the Rangers, do you think you’ll keep your minor league teams?

Chuck: Myrtle Beach and State College, yes, I do. We have a great management team there. We’re having a real strong year in both locations. I don’t have any plans to sell either one of them.

Me: How big is the city where Penn State is located?

Chuck: State College has about 45,000 full time residents. It also has about an equal number of students. On football Saturdays, it’s the third biggest city in the state of Pennsylvania. But we don’t play on football Saturdays. It’s a great example where we have to do a great job reaching out and touching the community and being a part of their lives. And we’ve succeeded with that. We’ve averaged about 3700-3800 per game this year, just under 4000. Again, in a smaller community in the summer, and with short season ball, that’s very good. We outdraw a number of markets that are significantly larger than ours. Our sponsorship revenue is really strong. I think if you ask anyone in the surrounding community what they think of the State College Spikes, they’ll say, ‘Those are great people who do wonderful things in the community.’ That’s how we like to be known.

Me: What are some things as far as fan experience you’ve implemented with your minor teams that have worked really well?

Chuck: The things we’ve done here (with the Rangers) so far, you could probably do a rap video called ‘Straight out of Altoona’ because we’ve had to scramble. For four and a half months, we couldn’t think of anything other than just trying to find a way to get the team. Now we’re really kind of going on the fly and doing the things you can do in a hurry late in the season. Already we’ve cut the price of hot dogs, soda, beer, parking, caps. We’ve added a cap exchange program where if you (turn in) the cap of another major league team, you get 20% off of a Rangers cap.

Monday night we started the blue light specials, which we’re going to do every game. It’s for one inning. We announce a discount on a particular food item and a discount on a particular merchandise item. Monday night it was $5 off any authentic cap and it was also a discount on peanuts and soda. Last night for one inning, it was dollar hot dogs. We sold almost 4000 hot dogs in one inning, on a night where the attendance was 20,000. Tonight’s dollar dog night so the hot dogs are already only a dollar, but there’ll be a blue light special tonight. There’s a big siren and everything start flashing blue and Chuck Morgan announces what the nightly blue light special is. And people will talk about it. Last night on the Ticket on the way home, people were calling and they were talking about the dollar dog they got at the blue light special. And that’s what it’s all about. If you can create more value for your fans, in a way that gets everybody talking, then our fans market us for us. And that’s the way to do it. So now today when I was walking around, our game day staff was excited. They said, ‘Did you see all the people who were lining up for hot dogs last night? What’s the blue light special tonight?’ I said ‘Well, buckle up, it’s going to be a big one tonight.’ (Note: the blue light special that night ended up being discounted beer.) So it just gets people talking. It adds energy to the staff too because it’s fun for them to see. That’s one thing that we want to do.

We want to mix it up. We’ve added a number of things already with the in-game experience. Now when we score a run, we have the Six Shooters running around with Texas state flags. We think that’s a great element. We changed a little bit about the in-game presentation so that, the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings, it’s all about ratcheting up the intensity level, for the focus to be on the field. So you won’t see us doing a blue light special in the 6th because that would be effective for the 7th. The 7th, 8th and 9th innings, we want everyone in the seating bowl focusing on what’s going on and making this as hostile a place for opposing teams to play as good taste will allow.

Sunday we ran a full page ad in every major newspaper within a four hour drive of the ballpark in the form of a letter from myself and Nolan, emphasizing that we understand that this franchise belongs to the fans and that we want to serve them and that we need their ideas and suggestions. There were really two messages there. One is what the letter actually says. But the other is the geographic scope of where we placed it. We really wanted to make the point that, for all those Rangers fans who may have become disaffected over the years who live within about a four hour drive of the ballpark, we want you back. It’s time to come home again to the ballpark. Today, we named Katie Crawford, who’s a terrific member of our staff, the first Rangers Fan Ambassador. It will be her job, as fans have suggestions, they can call or email her. If they have a problem, they can call or email her, and her job is to make everybody happy. We’re going to create a comprehensive Fan Ambassador programs in the off-season but again we wanted to do this right away.

Me: I hadn’t heard of the blue light thing yet.

Chuck: You’ll see it tonight. Keep you eyes open. I think it’ll be the 5th inning tonight.

Me: Besides the new scoreboard, what are some things you have planned to enhance the Rangers Ballpark experience?

Chuck: We have an unlimited number of things in our bag of tricks. What’s great is that it keeps getting deeper, because everyone has ideas. I was kidding that we’re going to put out a CD this offseason called ‘Chuck Morgan Unleashed’. Because Chuck’s been waiting to be able to do all these things but now he’s really being encouraged to let it all hang out and try things. So you’ll see as far as the in-game presentation, we’ll be rolling out new things all the time. You’re going to see greatly expanded caravans because we’re going to go out and do things in all these communities to really be a part of their lives and do things for them and not just ask them to come to the ballpark. I want to improve the food and beverage experience. I think the food’s good but I’d like to see a more diversified menu. I’d like to see more specialty foods.

Me: Yeah, I saw the new Asian place downstairs.

Chuck: That’s an example of it and we’ve had a request for vegetarian food. I’d like to see more Tex-Mex food. I’d like to see more big grilled sandwiches. There’s a whole bunch of different thing we can do. We’re looking at how we can utilize different parts of the ballpark to do that, particularly in the seating bowl. One of the phrases that we use a lot is that it’s about the sight, sounds, and smells. Well, right now to get food you have to give up the sight of the game. We restored some of the sound. We put the speakers back on. I don’t know why they were turned off. We put the speakers back on so you can hear the play by play of the game as you’re walking through the concourse. We’re still experimenting with the decibel level. It still needs to be a little bit louder. We’re looking for ways we can bring the food experiences into the seating bowl, which was not the case before.

Me: I like the radio being back on. I also like the new graphics for the players.

Chuck: It’s definitely amped up. Much better.

Me: You said that the Rangers and the community need to feel like family. What are some ideas you have for making the fans feel closer to the team?

Chuck: I think we’re doing a number of them already. Cutting prices. Soliciting everyone’s ideas and suggestions. Being available to fix problems immediately. Working backwards from yes. Being more accessible. Every game, I’ve spent time just wandering around the ballpark for at least a few innings. I’m not doing it from an ego standpoint. I’m doing it because fans want to see that we’re just like them. And I am, in every way. So I make a point to watch the game from all different vantage points. It not only sends a good message but it’s really helpful to me because sitting in different places, fans give me their ideas and their thoughts, but I also get to experience the game from different places. I’ve gone to places and said, ‘The sound system needs to be tweaked here.’ Or ‘I can’t see this particular thing on the board.’ If you’re always in the same place every night, there’s just no way you can pick those kinds of things up. In multiple ways, it’s a wise thing to do.

Me: Yeah, we’ve found that the sound system needs to be tweaked.

Chuck: Or maybe start over with it.

Me: What’s your opinion on displaying Rangers history around the ballpark?

Chuck: Two things. One is I would like to see more about the history of the franchise. I’d also like us to create more history too. There are some really cool things I saw at the Penguins new arena last week where they’ve got interactive history and Hall of Fame displays that are really high-tech, where you can get a lot of content but display it in a non-traditional way that’s pretty efficient with space. And they had it sponsored, which is a nice combination. I would like to see more history. This is such a wonderful traditional park. You can feel a lot of the legacy of baseball here. There are things we can do to bring that out, not just by honoring the history of the team but things we can do with the signage packages throughout the park to clean it up and make it look more like it was originally intended to. I think over the years, the signage has kind of junked it up a little bit, not because there’s too much signage but because of the way the signage is done. There are just too many different colors and shapes and locations. I think there’s a way to maximize our revenue while still creating an aesthetic approach that’s more true to the original vision. You look at Fenway for example. They’ve done a great job. All the ads fit a certain theme or look. Everyone buys into it because that’s part of being at Fenway. I think when you’re in this ballpark, it’s such a wonderful traditional Texas-themed park. I think there are things we can do to bring that character out even more.

Me: I remember when they used to have bricks outside the ballpark that showed each year’s team, showing each player who was on the team that year, their stats, and any awards players on the team won. I thought that was really cool and they tore it up for some reason. There are still two years, ‘96 and ‘97 out there, but the rest are gone.

Chuck: One of the things that we’ve done in our parks, at Altoona and Myrtle Beach, where the franchises have been around long enough, is have opening day banners. We have banners throughout the concourses showing the starting lineup from every opening day.

Me: Yeah, I really like those.

Chuck: Yeah, you would have seen them in Myrtle Beach. We just added those last year or maybe the year before. That’s a subtle but effective way. First, it looks good. But it also shows a little bit about the history. When people think about making changes to a ballpark, they think about things that cost 50 million dollars. Most of the things you can do that improve the atmosphere, they hardly cost anything. It’s just a matter of working hard enough to identify what they are. And one of the ways to work hard to identify them is by asking you to identify them. That’s why getting ideas from other people is good. We have no pride. We just want to be the best we can be. And that’s why we want others to help us get there.

Me: I also like the board at Myrtle Beach that shows all the minor leaguers who played for the Pelicans and have made it to the majors.

Chuck: Yeah, the Road to the Show Wall. That was another thing we started in Altoona.

Me: Which dog do you like better - Dinger or Deuce? (Mascots for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans)

Chuck: Well, you know we lost Dinger. Dinger passed away. Dinger was a great dog. I really like Deuce but Dinger was an original and I’m a big dog guy. We have four dogs of our own and every time I saw dinger, I wanted to give him a hug. It’s nothing against Deuce but Dinger had a lot of character. I miss Dinger.

Me: I agree. I still remember playing fetch with him in the team store. And even though my dog’s name is Deuce, I still like Dinger better.

Chuck: Dinger was just one of those dogs you wanted to hug. Our first dog, who we lost to cancer, he was that way. He was Hank, named after Hank Greenberg, and people would see him and they’d just want to cross the street and hug him. Certain dogs have charisma and Dinger had charisma.

Me: So, I guess we’ll wrap it up. Thank you so much for doing this.

Chuck: You’re welcome. We’ll definitely do it again.

I would like to thank Chuck for giving me so much of his time and for giving such great answers to questions.

Come back next week for a pennant race analysis.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

August Awards

This week I will give my August Awards for the Rangers, American League, and National League. I didn’t have a July Awards, so I am writing this month’s awards a week early to make it a kind of combination.

Rangers Awards:

MVP: Josh Hamilton, TEX (.356 AVG, 27 HR, 85 RBI): I have Josh as my AL MVP, so he will pretty obviously be my Rangers MVP. He has an amazing batting average, with outstanding power numbers.
Runner-up: Vladimir Guerrero, TEX (.298 AVG, 21 HR, 88 RBI)

Cy Young: CJ Wilson, TEX (12-5, 3.02 ERA, 128 K): CJ has an ERA just barely above 3.00, which is amazing, especially for a guy in his first full major league season as a starter. He also leads the team in wins on top of that incredible ERA.
Runner-up: Colby Lewis, TEX (9-10, 3.37 ERA, 154 K)

Rookie of the Year: Neftali Feliz, TEX (30 SV, 3.46 ERA, 53 K): Once again, like Josh, I have Neftali as my American League winner at this award, so he will definitely be the Rangers ROY. He has one of the highest save totals in the AL this year, and already has more than the Rookie of the Year last season.
Runner-up: Alexi Ogando, TEX (3-1, 1.27 ERA, 28 K)

AL Awards:

MVP: Josh Hamilton, TEX (.356 AVG, 27 HR, 85 RBI): Josh leads the majors in batting average by a healthy 16 points, and has great power numbers to go with it. He is 6th in the AL in home runs and 9th in RBIs, just good enough to let his average make him the MVP.
Runner-up: Miguel Cabrera, DET (.340 AVG, 31 HR, 101 RBI)

Cy Young: Clay Buchholz, BOS (14-5, 2.36 ERA, 89 K): Clay leads the American League in ERA at 2.36, has 14 wins, which is 5th in the AL, and he’s only lost 5 games this season.
Runner-up: Trevor Cahill, OAK (13-5, 2.54 ERA, 86 K)

Rookie of the Year: Neftali Feliz, TEX (30 SV, 3.46 ERA, 53 K): Last year, Andrew Bailey won Rookie of the Year over Elvis Andrus with 26 saves on a bad team, while Neftali Feliz already has 30 saves for a good team, and has been very, very good.
Runner-up: Austin Jackson, DET (.306 AVG, 2 HR, 28 RBI)

Manager of the Year: Cito Gaston, TOR (64-57, 4th place): Cito has taken a team that was supposed to battle the Orioles for last place in the division into a team 7 games over .500 battling the Red Sox for 3rd place in the best division in baseball.
Runner-up: Ron Washington, TEX (68-53, 1st place)

NL Awards:

MVP: Albert Pujols, STL (.316 AVG, 32 HR, 88 RBI): Albert is tied for 4th in the National League in batting average, is first in home runs, and is first in RBIs. The only other player that is in the top 5 of every category in the NL is Joey Votto.
Runner-up: Joey Votto, CIN (.320 AVG, 28 HR, 81 RBI)

Cy Young: Adam Wainwright, STL (17-7, 2.06 ERA, 165 K): Adam leads the majors in wins with 17, and leads the majors in ERA at 2.06, and is tied for 6th in the majors in strikeouts. That’s a Cy Young.
Runner-up: Roy Halladay, PHI (16-8, 2.16 ERA, 180 K, 200 IP)

Rookie of the Year: Jaime Garcia, STL (10-6, 2.58 ERA, 105 K): Jaime has had a great year for the Cardinals, with an ERA well under 3.00, better than any NL rookie starter, and also leads NL rookies in wins this year. That’s Rookie of the Year numbers.
Runner-up: Buster Posey, SF (.342 AVG, 9 HR, 46 RBI)

Manager of the Year: Bud Black, SD (73-48, 1st place): Bud has really done a great job with the Padres this year, and has supposedly one of the worst teams in baseball in first place, and going strong.
Runner-up: Dusty Baker, CIN (71-51, 1st place)

Come back next week for a new interview if everything goes well.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Minnesota-Toronto Trip Report

Last week, my dad and I took a baseball-centered trip to Toronto and Minneapolis. This was my first time out of the country, and my first to Minnesota. I hadn’t been to either the Blue Jays or the Twins ballpark, and with the Twins new ballpark, it was a perfect time to go. This trip got me up to having been to 25 current major league stadiums, and 31 major league stadiums in all. Following is the report on our trip.

Thursday, July 29th:

On Thursday, my dad and I flew to Toronto on my first international flight. It was a pretty long flight, but I passed it by mainly by watching Major League 2 with my dad. We spent the night at a Hampton Inn right by the airport. It was very convenient.

That night we went to the Hockey Hall of Fame. It is located in a mall and is fairly small, but it’s a neat place. One of the coolest things that they had in the Hall was a room in the very center dedicated to all the hockey legends. Some of the players that get inducted get inducted as Legends, and get their own little display case in this room. The only Star there was Brett Hull. They also have the Stanley Cup in one of the rooms, and I really liked how it had the names of all of the players from each Stanley Cup Champion on it. It was fun to look at the Stars roster from 1999. One thing that I found strange, though, is how the players that get inducted aren’t associated with a team. It was also somewhat frustrating how few Stars things they had. It seemed as if the Stars had about the least amount of representation in the place, although I’m sure the Coyotes and Thrashers had less. I also have to point out that I beat my dad 2-1 in triple overtime on one of those hockey tables that is kind of like foosball.

After we finished up at the Hall of Fame, we walked over to eat at Wayne Gretzky’s (no, this is not a hockey trip, it’s a baseball one). It was a very long walk, despite the fact that an employee told us it was walking distance. As an appetizer, we got poutine, which is french fries with cheese and gravy, and it was good, but somewhat disappointing since it sounded so amazing, and ended up only being good. We then split a pizza, and it was a very good pizza. We got pepperoni, bacon, and sausage, and I would get it again if we ever go back. The restaurant had a lot of Wayne Gretzky memorabilia, and I’m glad we ate there, even though the prices were ridiculous.

We drove back to the hotel when we were done eating, and after getting over my shock of them not having ESPN (which I still find crazy, ESPN should at least stretch to Canada), I watched the Yankees and Indians game. The Indians had to make a quick turn-around because they were the team that was playing the Blue Jays in the game we saw on Friday. But the TV situation turned out to be okay, despite the fact that there wasn’t any ESPN.

Friday, July 30th:

Early Friday morning, after eating the free Hampton breakfast (apparently Canadians eat baked beans for breakfast), my dad and I drove to St. Marys to see the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. St. Marys is a small little town, and is a pretty long drive from Toronto (about 2 hours). The Hall of Fame is in a small house in the middle of a neighborhood, but although the space is small, the place is crammed with info. The setting of it was very neat, and it had a cool feeling to it. The place was very interesting, and there’s a lot of Blue Jays and Expos stuff. The inductees have plaques in the hallway, and the most notable ones were Fergie Jenkins, Joe Carter, Gary Carter, and Roberto Alomar. To be inducted, you have to make a contribution to Canadian baseball, and the inductees are normally players who are either Canadian-born or played for the Blue Jays or Expos. On the field behind the house, they have three little league fields, two of them with seats from the old Exhibition Stadium (Blue Jays former ballpark). The displays were very updated; in one room they had Jason Bay gear from a game earlier this year. The employee there was very friendly, and I enjoyed talking with him.

On our way to our new hotel in Toronto, we stopped at the site of Exhibition Stadium, the old Blue Jays ballpark, and that was fun, because they had home plate and each of the three bases marked with plaques set in the ground. They were located in the parking lot of the Toronto FC soccer stadium.

We went and checked in to our new hotel, the Renaissance, which is connected to the Blue Jays ballpark. It was neat to be able to walk into our hotel and look out over the field. Our room was facing the opposite way, but there was a restaurant off of the hotel lobby that overlooked the field.

We just hung out in our ESPN-less hotel room for about half an hour before heading to the game. The stadium has no character, and there is nothing that really makes it special, but it’s a good place to watch a baseball game. The problem with it is that there is nothing else but the field, basically. We ate some ridiculously over priced chicken tenders with some tasteless fries, and my dad got an $8.00 Coke (yes, 8 dollars, he didn’t see the price). The roof was open, and the temperature was in the 60s (I miss that weather). Our seats were very good, because we had a great view of the CN Tower, and it has a cool light show at night, so it kept changing colors all over the place. I really enjoyed the game.

The Blue Jays won the game 8-1, with a combination of their amazing power and a good pitching performance by Shaun Marcum. The first Jays home run of the night was Fred Lewis’ 7th in the third inning, to put the Blue Jays up 1-0. But then in the 4th inning, the Indians pitcher Justin Masterson just flat out lost it. The Blue Jays scored 6 runs in the inning, capitalized by a Jose Bautista grand slam, his 31st home run of the year (wow, who would’ve thought?). The Jays scored another run in the sixth off of Masterson to make his line 5.1 innings and 8 earned runs. Shaun Marcum took a no-hitter into the fifth, when Austin Kearns, in his last game as an Indian, broke it up. Marcum allowed just one run in 7 innings, and struck out 10 Indians, before giving way to Casey Janssen and Shawn Camp, who both threw scoreless innings.

Saturday, July 31st:

We woke up very early Saturday morning to head to the airport. We were flying from Toronto to Chicago to Minneapolis. Our flight took off on time from Toronto, and landed on time, also. When we landed in Chicago, we were supposed to have a 3-hour layover, but we got lucky, and there was a flight to Minneapolis that had been delayed by 15 minutes, and that allowed us to get on that flight via stand-by, so we had about a half-an-hour layover. We arrived in Minneapolis early in the afternoon.

Once we landed, we went straight to the Mall of America (which is the biggest mall you’ll ever see), and played Moose Mountain mini-golf. It was an 18-hole course on the third floor, and is really, really neat. I beat my dad, and had a lot of fun, even though the people in front of us were the slowest putt-putters ever. The little girl would get a 10, and then re-do some putts, even though we were waiting right behind them. After I destroyed my dad at putt-putt, we went into the amusement park in the middle of the mall, formerly called Camp Snoopy, but then bought by Nickelodeon, and now called Nickelodeon Universe (I would’ve liked Camp Snoopy more). You pay per ride there, and we only did one ride, called GhostBlaster, which was fun. It was kind of like the Buzz Lightyear ride at Disney World, but not quite as good, since it’s not Disney quality. Once again, I just completely obliterated my dad, so that made me 3-0 for the trip. Also, in the middle of the amusement park, they have a marker showing the location of home plate from Metropolitan Stadium, which is the Twins old ballpark, and against the wall they have the seat still hanging from where Harmon Killebrew hit a 520-foot home run, the longest in Twins history.

3:00 pm was check-in time, so we went over to our third hotel in three nights, a Doubletree within walking distance of Target Field. I always like staying at Doubletrees because they give you free cookies when you check in.

When the gates opened, we walked over to Target Field, which was extremely nice. The stadium was one of the best I’ve ever seen. The attention to detail there was amazing; it seemed like everything there had some different historical meaning. Outside the right field gate is Target Plaza, which is awesome. It has the complete rosters of every Twins team and every member of the Twins Hall of Fame on a fence. It has statues of Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew, and Kirby Puckett, which were neat. One of my favorite parts of the plaza was the Gold Glove they had out there. They had a Gold Glove statue, with a plaque beside it that has every Gold Glove winner in Twins history, and it is 520 feet from home plate, the same distance as the longest home run in Twins history. They also have nine huge bat-shaped flowerpots, and one lights up for every inning, so if you’re driving by and 5 bats are lit up, you know that it’s the fifth inning. They had a lot of history, and I like that. The Rangers really don’t have any history at all outside their ballpark. Another great aspect of the ballpark is the big Minnie & Paul sign that they have out in center field that sparkles after a strike-out, and has them shake hands after a home run (unfortunately, we didn’t see any homers).

In the game, the Twins played very well. The pitching match-up was Felix Hernandez vs. Kevin Slowey, and Hernandez actually did not get the best of that match-up. Slowey was dealing, throwing 8 shut-out innings, and allowing only three hits all day. Hernandez threw six shut-out innings in innings 2-7, but that was after a 3-run first inning for the Twins. Delmon Young drove in two runs with a triple, and then the very next batter, Jim Thome, drove him home with an RBI double. The Twins scored a fourth run in the 8th on a Joe Mauer RBI double off of former Ranger Jamey Wright. The Twins beat the Mariners 4-0.

But we left the Twins game after the 5th inning to go see a St. Paul Saints game. The Saints are an independent league team. They play at Midway Stadium, which is very small and old, and doesn’t have enough parking, but they make it a fun place to watch a game, with very different entertainment. We got there in the top of the 4th inning, and left after 8. The fans there are very into the game and excited about it, despite the fact that there is a major league team 15 minutes away. The Saints won the game 5-2 over the Sioux Falls Fighting Pheasants.

Sunday, August 1st:

In the morning, my dad and I walked to the nearest tram station to go to the Metrodome, and on the way we saw a lot of the Joe Mauer statues they have around town. Each statue represents a different year in Twins history, and they are all in the shape of Joe Mauer made out of clippings and pictures and other things. It’s part of the celebration of the Twins’ 50th season.

When we got off the tram, we went around the Metrodome (now called Mall of America Field, which I think is too long of a name), and went to Dome Souvenirs, across the street from the Metrodome. Inside, they have a small, free museum, which is basically the owner’s collection of souvenirs. The owner used to the equipment manager for the Twins. It was a bit random, but still very cool, and I’m glad I went.

The Twins had a day game that day, and so we hopped back on the tram and went straight to Target Field, since there is a stop about 20 feet away from the ballpark. Once again, the Twins beat the Mariners 4-0, but this time it was Francisco Liriano that was dealing. He allowed only four base-runners, no runs, and struck out 11 in just 7 innings. Luke French of the Mariners started off the game great, with 5 shut-out innings, but then allowed 4 runs in the 6th inning, on a 3-run Jason Kubel double, and a Danny Valencia RBI double. Jon Rauch and Matt Guerrier both struck out two in their innings of work, so the Mariners struck out 15 times in all.

After the game, we headed back over to the Mall of America to do MagiQuest and more rides. MagiQuest is an interactive game that is very fun. The rides we did were a roller coaster that went all around the park, and that was fun, because it didn’t have any big drops or anything like that (I don’t like big roller coasters), and we did a log ride that looked like it had been unchanged by Nickelodeon, and I think that was the best ride there. You went around in a log, and it had a whole lot of robotic figures that moved and talked, or did something like that. I wonder how cool the place would have been before Nickelodeon changed everything, and made the whole look of it change from cool outdoorsy to colorful blankness. After we did those three things, we went back to the hotel, where I caught up on my ESPN-watching.

Monday, August 2nd:

On Monday, we had a flight out in the afternoon, but in the morning we did a tour of Target Field, which was very good.

We started out in Target Plaza, and then went in to the ballpark. It’s a small place, with just about 40,000 seats, with a very cool look to it. And we learned about yet another cool historical attention to detail when the tour guide told us that the flag pole was the same one that was used at the Twins old field, Metropolitan Stadium. It surprised me that it has no kids zone like most teams do, but I was also jealous of their jumbo-tron. It was very large and clear, like most teams have, but not the Rangers. The tour took us into the Town Ball Tavern, a restaurant inside the ballpark, in which we had eaten the day before (pretty good burgers, and different but good tasting chips. As Chris Bosh would say, “It’s different, I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s just different.”). Then they took us into the Legends Club (the club level), and I really enjoyed that, because there were a lot of different display cases in there about the Twins with their numbers retired. Kirby Puckett’s cases were awesome, because they had his whole collection, Gold Gloves and everything, since his family donated it to them after he passed away. They also took us into the Metropolitan Club, which is a restaurant for season ticket holders and honors the Metropolitan Stadium era. They took us to the suite level, which had an area honoring the Twins’ history from when they were the Washington Senators. One of the last things they took us to was the Roof Deck, a seating area way up in left field, and that had some pictures and stats about the Twins players with retired numbers. The very last part of the tour was when we went into the visitor’s clubhouse (surprisingly smaller than those that I have seen), and into the dugout, which did not have big enough seats. The tour was a very thorough one and took almost two hours, and we got to spend a lot of time walking the tiny concourses that are always congested, and reminded me of the Rangers’ right field concourse.

That was the end of our trip, and I really enjoyed it. The flight home went very smoothly, just like the whole trip.

I would like to thank my dad for taking me on this trip every year, and taking me to do so many things. He is awesome.

Come back next week for my July-August Awards.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Deadline Trades

This week I’m going to get caught up on analyzing the Rangers’ trade deadlines deals. I’m late doing this because I was out of town last week on a baseball trip with my dad to Minnesota and Toronto. I was going to recap that trip this week but will wait until next week so that I can analyze the trades.

On July 30th, the Texas Rangers acquired 1B/3B Jorge Cantu from the Florida Marlins in exchange for RHP Omar Poveda and RHP Evan Reed.

Evaluation: Cantu is a big upgrade over Chris Davis, and even with Mitch Moreland getting plenty of playing time at first, Cantu is still playing enough to make a difference. For the season, he is hitting .263 in 388 at-bats, and has 10 home runs and 54 RBIs. He has exactly 100 career home runs. He is having a solid year, not great, not bad, but last year was one of the best years of his career, as he had his highest batting average (.289), his third most home runs (16), and his second most RBIs (100). He is okay defensively at first base, with 8 errors in 145 career starts at the position, and has never had a fielding percentage below .990 in any season at first. He is not going to steal many bases, with only 11 in his 7-year career, and 0 this year, and he is not going to hit too many home runs, but will hit a respectable amount, as his normal is around 15-25 home runs in a season. What he will do a lot of, though, is hitting doubles, with 41 in 2008 and 42 in 2009, and while he won’t hit that many this year (25 so far), he will get up into the 30s in that category, most likely. This will be his fourth major league team to play on in just his seventh year, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the Cincinnati Reds, the Florida Marlins, and now the Texas Rangers.

Omar Poveda was ranked the 23rd prospect in the Rangers organization by Jamey Newberg in this year’s Bound Edition, and is a pretty good prospect despite his minor league numbers. In his five minor league seasons, his ERAs have been 5.71 (2005), 4.78 (2006), 3.22 (2007), 4.47 (2008), and 4.10 (2009). He hasn’t pitched this year due to Tommy John surgery.

Evan Reed was ranked 38th by Jamey this year, and, other than 2008, his stats have been incredible throughout his minor league career. He had a 1.91 ERA in 2007, a 2.96 ERA in 2009, and has a 1.69 ERA this year. Right now he is on the 7-day disabled list with a strained right elbow.

Grade: B, Cantu will be a good addition, not a great one, and we gave up two solid prospects for him. Poveda and Reed both have the potential to be good major leaguers, but Cantu should help us enough to make it a B.

On July 31st, the Texas Rangers acquired 2B Cristian Guzman from the Washington Nationals in exchange for RHP Ryan Tatusko and RHP Tanner Roark.

Evaluation: Cristian Guzman is a definite upgrade over Andres Blanco for the Rangers utility spot, and definitely better suited to fill in for Ian while he’s on the DL. So far this year he is hitting .272. He has good speed, and although he won’t steal many bases anymore, he is still speedy enough to go first-to-third and take an extra base. He is not very good defensively, as he has a career .971 fielding percentage, which is very, very low. He is a two-time All-Star (2001, 2008), but this is the last year of his contract, so he will be a free agent in the offseason. Andres Blanco is hitting just .230 this year, so Guzman should be a big help at the utility spot.

Ryan Tatusko, who just did an interview with me in my last post, is a great guy and I’m really sorry to see him go. He was always very nice to me, and he also did a great job doing the Backfield Diaries for the Newberg Report. He was ranked as the Rangers’ #72 prospect by Jamey, but that was before this season started, and he has had a great year. He was a Texas League All-Star, and he definitely deserved it. He has a 9-2 record and a 2.92 ERA in 104.2 innings pitched between the RoughRiders and the Harrisburg Senators.

Tanner Roark was ranked #58, but his ERA has risen for the second straight year, which isn’t good. After an outstanding 2.76 ERA in his first season in 2008, his ERA raised to a still very good 3.02, but then has raised to a mediocre 4.20 this season. He has a 10-5 record this year despite his above-4.00 ERA.

Grade: B+, Cristian will be a very good addition to this team, but Tatusko has had a great year, and has been raised on prospect lists, and Guzman’s defense really isn’t what you want out of a utility infielder. Still, this is a very good trade, just not an A-worthy one.

On July 31st, the Texas Rangers acquired RHP Roman Mendez and 1B Christopher McGuiness from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for C Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Evaluation: Jarrod Saltalamacchia was one of the Rangers’ biggest prospects in the trade in which he came here, but leaves as one of the Rangers’ biggest disappointments in the trade in which he leaves here. He played in just two major league games this season before going on the DL and then being sent to the minors. He really struggled in Triple-A Oklahoma City, hitting only .244 with 11 home runs and 33 RBIs. Those would be disappointing numbers in the majors, but they are very disappointing numbers in the minors. He has gotten injured with arm problems many times over the past couple of seasons. He has struck out 66 times this year, and walked just 26 times. He has never hit over .270 in his career, hitting .266 between the Braves and Rangers in 2007, hitting .253 in 2008, and then only .233 in 2009, in which he played the most games in his career. So not only has he had bad batting averages, they’ve gotten worse every year, which is not a good sign. He has never even gotten 35 RBIs in a major league season. His defense has never been good, with a fielding percentage consistently well below .990. He has also been terrible at throwing out base runners, and has allowed 139 stolen bases and thrown out just 36. With Oklahoma City this year, he allowed 46 stolen bases in only 54 attempts.

Roman Mendez has not had a very good year, with a 3-5 record and 5.94 ERA in his 15 starts. He has been very wild, walking 30 batters in 53 innings, but has also struck out a lot of hitters, with 61 Ks. But before this season, he had been dominant, with a 2.65 ERA and .222 opponents’ batting average in 2008, and a 1.99 ERA and .184 opponents’ batting average in 2009. He has a fastball that touches 100 MPH at times, and a very good slider.

Christopher McGuiness is hitting .291 this season with 12 home runs and 49 RBIs between Greensville and Bakersfield. He has walked 59 times and struck out 62 times, a very good ratio. He hit .337 in July, while playing in Low-A. His OBP this season was incredible for the Drive, at .416 due to a solid batting average and a boatload of walks.

Grade: A, the Rangers, along with me, had basically given up on Salty, and we get a hard-throwing starter, whose fastball and slider are somewhat like Carlos Marmol, and a solid hitter at a position where the depth has been eroded in the last few weeks.

Overall, I would give Jon Daniels an A+ for this trade deadline, based on how he’s helped this team and put them in a position to win.

Come back next week for a recap of my baseball trip to Minnesota and Toronto.