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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Oakland Athletics’ Prospect Nick Rickles: What's It Like Rehabbing a Baseball Injury?



The enjoyment that professional baseball provides is only because of the hard work and sacrifices made by the players. Unfortunately, this can sometimes lead to injuries because of the rigorous physical demands on the body. When this happens the process of getting healthy and back on the field can be an arduous process. Nobody knows this better than Oakland Athletics’ minor league catcher Nick Rickles, who has been forced to sit out the entire 2014 season.

The 24-year-old Rickles was a 14th-round draft choice of Oakland in 2011 out of Stetson University. In his three professional seasons, he showed himself to be a promising prospect by hitting a combined .254 with 15 home runs and 106 RBIs in 224 games. His defense has also been impressive, as he has nabbed 43 percent of those attempting to steal bases. Most importantly, he progressed a level each year, including reaching Double-A in 2013.

2014 appeared to be a critical year for Rickles. Having just debuted in the higher reaches of the minors, he was possibly a strong season away from reaching the majors. A torn labrum has delayed those aspirations but not dampened them. With an amazing sense of dedication and determination, it’s a sure bet that the young catcher will be on the field and better than ever in 2015.

Many baseball players experience injuries and the road of rehabilitation back to health. But what is that like, both physically and emotionally? Rickles was kind enough to recently share some insight to that process in the midst of ongoing recovery.

Can you briefly describe the injury you had, how you suffered it, and what is your prognosis?: I tore my labrum during spring training. I'm not really early sure how I tore it but it was originally thought to not be as serious, however we went and got a MRI and found out it was torn unfortunately. Rehab is about a year, and I'm 16 weeks in this week. Everything is going great.

Can you describe the feelings, as a minor league prospect, of being told you will miss significant time because of injury?: This injury was a first for me of this kind of magnitude. I was sad, angry and confused but my dad helped me keep my head on straight. There are a lot of major league baseball players that have had this same surgery and have come back stronger than they were prior to the injury. I would say I had negativity in my head leading up to the surgery, but post surgery it was time to work and I had to focus and put the extra effort in to make sure coming back fully healthy and stronger is a reality.

How difficult is it to commit yourself to the rehab work, and from where do you get your inspiration?: It hasn't been hard to put the work in. We have an amazing staff headed by Nate Brooks that makes sure we understand time tables and set realistic expectations and goals for ourselves. I was raised to never give up, so even though this speed bump in my career might be a mountain, if I work hard enough I'll make it to the top and come out on the other side stronger.  

I get my inspiration from family and roommates. Derek DeYoung had Tommy John surgery around the same time, so we have had each other’s back from day one pushing each other to go the extra mile. As far as moral support Chris Kohler, also my roommate, has been here working with me on a diet so we both stay healthy. I still can't say enough of about my dad, mom, and brother who have flown out a couple times to keep my head straight.

What is the biggest thing you have learned about yourself while dealing with this injury?: That I have more fight than I thought. Being injured is never an easy thing but missing an entire season is not something I was prepared for. But just like baseball, life is a game of adjustments, so I've had to make the necessary adjustments to stay positive and work my tail off to get better.

Has this injury made you think more about your "baseball mortality," and if so, how has that impacted you?: This injury has made me realize how much I love the game. I miss it every single day, hitting, throwing, catching, drills and even conditioning. I look back at myself and wonder how I could have prevented it and there really isn't a correct answer to that. I know that once I'm able to play again I will never take a single pitch, inning, or game for granted. I didn't take anything for granted before the injury but this just puts everything in perspective to show you how quickly things can change in life and in your career.

How do you bounce back and reassert yourself in the ever-changing landscape of baseball player development?: I just have to believe in the system. I'm not the first person in baseball to tear my Labrum and I won't be the last, and our training staff with the Athletics know what they are doing. I have to remind myself to stick to the plan and not deviate from what plan is set for me. I have to do things right to make sure I have the opportunity to come back healthy or stronger. Resetting myself won't be a problem because I am itching to get back on the field now. I might have a little timidness towards throwing at first but it’s in my head and I have to put the fear behind me. 

What are your goals for the 2015 season?: To get healthy as soon as possible, work harder than any time in my life, stay healthy, strengthen my arm and get back into game shape. They goals will be less statistical for the rest of my career. Getting stronger, working hard and doing this the right way will lead to the career I want.

Just to add a thought for people going through injuries, I know it's hard at first and your might feel like giving up is the best option, it isn't. Life is crazy at times but in my opinion life is what you make it. You take whatever life throws at you and try to find a positive out of it. There are always things you can do to challenge yourself. I did the diet thing and have never felt better about myself in my life. Your mind can be your worst enemy or your best friend; what happens next is always in your hands.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Review of No No: A Dockumentary

On June 12, 1970, Pittsburgh Pirates’ right-handed pitcher Dock Ellis no-hit the San Diego Padres 2-0 while under the influence of LSD. For many, this type of incident would define a career or a life. Incredibly, this was just another moment in the fascinating story of Ellis, which is beautifully told in the new documentary film, No No: A Dockumentary (directed by Jeffrey Radice and distributed by The Orchard).

Ellis was a pitcher of moderate talents, winning 138 games with a 3.46 ERA over 12 major league seasons with five different teams. However, by his own admission, he was in the throes of drug and alcohol addiction throughout, making the success he had all the more remarkable.

Radice’s film redefines the career and legacy of Ellis from the guy who once threw a no-hitter while on acid into something much more complex and meaningful. Shot with a trove of original footage and interviews with numerous family, friends, former teammates, colleagues, and with Ellis (who passed away in 2008) himself, No No does a wonderful job of taking the viewer through the life and times of the complicated hurler.

Ellis, who was African American, played on former Negro League pitcher Chet Brewer’s youth team as an adolescent, using his tutelage and connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates as stepping stones for his own baseball ambitions. He signed with Pittsburgh in 1964 and was in the majors by 1968—becoming an important part of their franchise for the better part of the next decade.

From the very beginning, Ellis was a brash young man playing a game that was still relatively fresh off integration, and in a country that was embroiled in the midst of the Civil Rights movement. Radice moves beyond the stats and standings to detail the pitcher’s outspoken behavior (dressing flamboyantly, saying what was on his mind, wearing curlers in his hair, etc…) to show what a firebrand he was in such a transformative time—including the horrible racism he and his black teammate faced on a regular basis.

Although Ellis developed close relationships with his teammates, especially Hall-of-Fame outfielder Roberto Clemente, he came to have an increasing reliance on substances as his career progressed; a proclivity he shared with some of his mates. His problems only worsened following the tragic 1973 death of Clemente in a plane crash.

Like many players of the era, his dalliance with illicit substances began with alcohol and stimulants (greenies). Unfortunately, he veered into other drugs like marijuana, cocaine and LSD, later admitting that every game he pitched in his career was done while he was under the influence.

Ellis’ no-hitter has been the stuff of baseball legend for years, with only his own admission and the observances of his teammates to verify the veracity of the story. In the film, he admits, “During the time I was pitching the no-hitter in San Diego, I really didn’t see the hitters. All I could tell was if they were on the right side or the left side. As far as seeing the target, the catcher put tape on his fingers so I could see the signals.” His numbers from the day bear that out, as he walked eight batters and hit another, walking a veritable tight rope though nine no-hit innings.

It would be easy to keep this film’s focus on the positive attributes of this colorful personality. To the contrary, Radice makes sure to fully expose him to the viewer, the good, the bad and the ugly. This includes the time he threw at every batter in the Cincinnati Reds’ lineup until he was finally pulled from the game, and even darker behavior like the fits of violence he committed against his ex wives while high or drunk.

Ultimately, when Ellis’ playing career ended, he came to understand what a problem he had. To his credit, he sought treatment, got clean, pursued an education and began to help others who had their own issues with substance abuse. With the narrative coming full circle like this, it allows Ellis to be both the hero, the villain, and finally the hero once again in his own story.

It’s not easy to both root for a person and loathe their actions in the same film. This is accomplished here pretty seamlessly. The obvious impact Ellis had on so many comes pouring out on the screen from the many interview subjects who touch base on every imaginable angle of Ellis’ life.

No No: A Dockumentary is the profile of one of baseball’s most colorful and memorable baseball players. But it is also much more than that. It’s a story of struggle and redemption nestled in a baseball setting. Most importantly, it’s the profile of a man who experienced highs and lows of extreme levels that few ever get to truly know. To see his journey through this extraordinary life, and how those around him saw him and his actions, is quite the feat, and the way Radice pulls it all off is nearly as special in film as Ellis’ no hitter.

Theatrical Release Date: September 5, 2014
VOD Release Date: September 2, 2014

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of the film but received no payment or other consideration for this review.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The "Firsts" of the Boston Red Sox

There is a youth movement afoot with the Boston Red Sox. Deals that sent a number of veteran players packing at the trade deadline have turned the 2014 season into giving opportunities to the young players to see who will be important building blocks of a successful future.

Already, Mookie Betts, Christian Vazquez, Anthony Ranaudo, Garin Cecchini and Alex Hassan have all made their major league debuts this year. Additionally, youngsters like Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts, Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman, Allen Webster and Heath Hembree have all received varying degrees of playing time after graduating from their former statuses as top prospects.

The future success of a young player is built piece by piece from a good game here and first moment there. It’s something every player goes through. Looking back, here are some important firsts from members of the Red Sox.

First Major League Home Runs:

Mookie Betts: July 2, 2014- two-run home run off Carlos Villanueva and the Chicago Cubs.

Xander Bogaerts: September 7, 2013- two-run home run off Jim Miller and the New York Yankees.

Jackie Bradley, Jr.: June 4, 2013- two-run home run off Justin Grimm and the Texas Rangers.

Yoenis Cespedes: March 29, 2012- two-run home run off Shawn Kelley and the Seattle Mariners.

Allen Craig: July 19, 2010- solo home run off Kyle Kendrick and the Philadelphia Phillies.

Brock Holt: May 31, 2014- two-run home run off Jake Odorizzi and the Tampa Bay Rays.

Mike Napoli: May 4, 2006- solo home run off Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers.

Daniel Nava: June 12, 2010- grand slam off Joe Blanton and the Philadelphia Phillies.

David Ortiz: September 14, 1997- two-run home run off Julio Santana and the Texas Rangers.

Dustin Pedroia: September 9, 2006- solo home run off Luke Hudson and the Kansas City Royals.

David Ross: September 2, 2002- solo home run off Mark Grace (yes, that Mark Grace) and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Shane Victorino: September 22, 2005- three-run home run off Tim Hudson and the Atlanta Braves.

Will Middlebrooks: May 6, 2012- grand slam off Tommy Hunter and the Baltimore Orioles.


First Major League Wins:

Burke Badenhop: May 7, 2008- Beat Dave Bush and the Milwaukee Brewers 6-2.

Craig Breslow: May 14, 2009- Beat Bobby Seay and the Detroit Tigers 6-5.

Clay Buchholz: August 17, 2007- Beat John Lackey and the Los Angeles Angels 8-4.

Rubby De La Rosa: May 27, 2011- Beat Clay Hensley and the Florida Marlins 3-2.

Joe Kelly: June 22, 2012- Beat Vin Mazzaro and the Kansas City Royals 11-4.

Tommy Layne: September 4, 2012- Beat John Ely and the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-3.

Edward Mujica: August 11, 2008- Beat Rocky Cherry and the Baltimore Orioles 13-8.

Anthony Ranaudo: August 1, 2014- Beat Chris Capuano and the New York Yankees 4-3.

Junichi Tazawa: August 11, 2009- Beat Chris Lambert and the Detroit Tigers 7-5.

Koji Uehara: April 8, 2009- Beat Chien-Ming Wang and the New York Yankees 7-5.

Allen Webster: July 4, 2013- Beat Eric Stults and the San Diego Padres 8-2.

Alex Wilson: May 17, 2013- Beat Josh Roenicke and the Minnesota Twins 3-2.

Brandon Workman: July 30, 2013- Beat Joe Saunders and the Seattle Mariners 8-2.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Friday, August 8, 2014

Corey Hart: A Baseball Original

Corey Hart is an outfielder/first baseman/designated hitter with the Seattle Mariners. Corey Hart is also a retired baseball player and current coach. Before you get too confused, let’s dive in to the “original” Corey Hart.

Corey David Hart was an infielder drafted out of the University of Oklahoma in the 23rd round of the 1998 draft by the Kansas City Royals. He had previously been selected in the later rounds by the Houston Astros and Arizona Diamondbacks but had passed on signing in order to continue his college career.

The switch-hitter was a scrappy sort with a tough-nosed approach and ability to play all over the field. He steadily progressed through the Royals’ system until he reached Double-A in 2001. However, he spent the next four seasons kicking around between that level and Triple-A.

In 2005, he played for the Bridgeport Bluefish in independent ball and also the Milwaukee Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate. Unfortunately, after eight professional seasons he had not made the major leagues and he retired from playing.

In 714 career games, he hit a combined .242 with 17 home runs and 248 RBIs while posting an impressive .371 OBP. More information about his career statistics is available here.

Ironically, as he was wrapping up his final season in the system of the Brewers, the current major league Corey Hart (Jon Corey Hart) was just reaching the bigs. They even played most of the year together for Triple-A Nashville.

Since his playing days ended, the “original” Hart has taken up coaching, working for multiple organizations. He currently serves as the hitting coach for the Miami Marlins’ advance Single-A affiliate Jupiter Hammerheads.

This past offseason, Hart answered some questions about his career. Keep reading for some great stories from somebody who has had quite the career in baseball.

Corey Hart Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: Roberto Alomar was my favorite player growing up. He was my favorite because he was a switch-hitting second baseman, and so was I.

Can you describe your draft experience(s)?: I went to Connors State Junior college out of high school and was drafted by the Astros (draft and follow) my freshman year. Then I was drafted again by the Diamondbacks my sophomore year, where I was offered a decent amount, but elected to go to the University of Oklahoma where I always wanted to go. Finally, I was drafted my senior year by the Royals in '98, where I finally signed.

How would you describe your game/skill set?: When I got to pro ball I was quickly labeled a utility player because I could play everywhere pretty well and I was a decent hitter that hit from both sides of the plate. I played mostly in the middle infield and found myself at third base quite a bit as well. I would say that my glove definitely prolonged my career.

How often are you confused with the "other Corey Hart?" Any good stories there?: I still to this day get confused with the other Corey Hart. I receive his cards in the mail (for the last 10 years or more) and people ask me to sign his cards in person. I'm 6'0 with a shaved head and he's 6'7 with long hair.

A couple of good stories:

When I was in Double-A and he had just signed, I started receiving his cards in the mail. People were asking me to sign his card with an envelope to send them back. After I received a handful, I actually signed a couple and sent them back (as a joke). The next year we (Royals) played the Brewers in spring training. I was playing third, and he made it to third as a base runner and we started talking. I told him I get his cards all the time and that I actually signed a few. He told me, ‘That's ok I've signed some of yours too.’

A few years after, we played together. I was coaching in the Brewers organization and was in big league camp with them. We went on a trip to Mesa to play the Cubs and he didn't make the trip. A fan called me over to sign a card, and it was one of his cards. The card had a signature already on it that was preprinted from the factory. It was my signature (same one I had since the seventh grade). I told him about it and he said he had seen it, so jokingly I told him that I wanted half of the money from the card deal.

My last year to play, we actually played together in Nashville in 2005. My first at-bat in the Brewers organization, I pinch hit for him. So, I walked up to the plate and told the umpire Corey Hart hitting for Corey Hart. The catcher and the umpire got a pretty good kick out of it.

What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: My favorite moment of my career had to have been winning the PCL championship in 2005. It was my last official game.

What are the most important things you took away from your playing career?: I learned work ethic. I learned to work together with others as a team. I learned how to play the game. I made friends that I will have for life.

And last but certainly not least, I met my wife while playing in Nashville.

What are you up to since retiring as a player?: Since retiring, I am approaching my ninth season as a hitting coach. I coached with the Brewers for four years, and about to start my fifth year with the Marlins.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew