Monday, February 20, 2017

Interview with Taylor Guerrieri, 150 Yrs of Baseball in Montgomery

In the spring 1867 Dr. A.T. Pearsall came to town and hung his shingle in front of a Court Square doctors office. A few short weeks later Montgomery had its first baseball team, with Doc Pearsall at first base.

And it is no coincidence, Pearsall brings a baseball pedigree rarely found on teams in the south. Although born in Florence, Alabama, our first baseman has grown up in New York state and is exposed to the early game of base ball.

During his college years was among the best players in the young game while with the Brooklyn Excelsiors of 1857-61. Serving for the Confederacy as a surgeon got him banned in Brooklyn but after the war he helped organize teams in Richmond before bringing the game of baseball to Montgomery.

That was exactly 150 years ago this May.

To honor this sesquicentennial, I am humbled to have been asked to offer a presentation on the fascinating Dr. Pearsall at the 14th Annual Southern Association Baseball Conference on March 4th, at historic Rickwood Field in Birmingham.

I am thrilled to help raise awareness about the start of the game in our area, few places are as fortunate as to be able to put a date and face to the genesis of baseball in their city. But that wasn't the only thing I wanted to do to mark the 150th year of baseball in Montgomery and the efforts Dr. Pearsall put forth to get the game going.

Last summer I met a gentleman who inquired if I would have interest in an old style 19th century base ball club. You can guess my response!

He identified himself as Jackrabbit Panhorst, a vintage baseballist with previous game experience and a desire to extend his base ball resume'. I received his card and in January we reconvened to explore the concept further. We agreed it would be terrific fun to have a chance to play old style baseball. Even better that it was 150 years since Dr. Pearsall played first base for the first team in Montgomery.

About a fortnight ago I had the pleasure of sitting with Jackrabbit, Ryan the Needler and RavenChris to formally organize the Montgomery Base Ball Club. (nicknames are a requirement in old time base ball!) A more knowledgeable and capable group could not have been assembled for the task.

 The rules are simple in 1850-70's style, no gloves and a catch on one bound is an out. No sliding, no stealing, no swearing. Defenders play within two steps of their bases and pitchers throw underhanded.
It is base ball, much as it was in 1870 when Dr.Pearsall arrived in Montgomery. The pace of the game seems a little slower in some ways, as the individual players weave themselves into the tapestry of the unfolding scene.

The deliberate pace is not lacking in drama though, at any moment a well struck ball will rip across the field with the ensuing scramble bringing the etchings of the past into vivid motion.

Most of all, it is great fun. Its base ball just as it was intended it to be.

If you have an interest in playing, or even just watching, the team meets every other Wednesday at the WeeTop in Blount Park around 5pm.

We are accepting to all ages, races, genders and levels of ability. Our next meeting is on March 1st. Simply bring a love of old time base ball!

Women BaseBallists welcome
It stings the hands a little, when the ball strikes the bat. But its the comforting sting of the joyful past time, rewarded by the familiar glance to view the orb arcing across a clear sky. And then the most pleasant of efforts, running free across grassy fields in the sunlight.

Afield, grasping the sphere and hurling it as far as one can is a natural desire, a fulfillment found in the simple action much more than the result.

We are putting together uniforms, simple to make and designed in the style of the era. Each regular team member will wear a uniform at matches but not required for practices.

We have met twice so far and already we picked up a few things that the early teams and their organizers learned - it can be tough finding a place to play that allows beer.

It isnt likely we can use the field on Sundays.

Also, until we have multiple teams in the area, finding an opponent can be a challenge.
Neil Berry
Former Montgomery Mgr Neil Berry died last August, he skippered the Rebels in 1958 in the Alabama/Florida League.

The Kalamazoo native was a MLB infielder for seven seasons and led the Rebels to a 65-61 record in the summer of 1958.


When I caught up with Taylor last week, he had already thrown three bullpen sessions and was feeling great about his progress in spring camp.

Taylor was very aware of the many pitchers vying for rotation spots in Tampa and Durham and felt there was a good chance he would start the season in Montgomery. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for me!

DrM: When you came to the Biscuits mid-season 2015, who told you that you were going to be a Biscuit and what was your reaction?
Taylor G: The high A manager. I was excited to move one step closer to the ultimate goal.

DrM: What were your impressions of the city before you got here and was Montgomery what you expected it to be?
Taylor G: Montgomery is a cool city. I've always enjoyed playing in the middle of downtown.

DrM: In your opinion, what is the biggest adjustment for a player coming from High-A Port Charlotte to Double-A Montgomery?
Taylor G: The consistency at the AA level is probably the biggest adjustment.

DrM: It looked to me like you were getting more ground balls last summer than in 2015, inducing weak contact for a career high in GIDP but also wild pitches. Was that by design or just how it turned out?
Taylor G: 2016 was a year of bad mechanics for me. Which ultimately lead to bad execution on my part on the mound.

DrM: I know you are a music fan, what are you listening to lately?
Taylor G: Currently listening to Washed Out radio on pandora. Indie rock vibes

DrM: You told me you shot an 82 at Chambers Bay in Washington, what other highlights did your offseason have?
Taylor G: The whole offseason seems like a blur sometimes, but spending time with my mom & dad was definitely the biggest highlight for me. Being so close to home, I know they really appreciate it, as do I.

DrM: Last year you threw almost 150 innings for the first time so far in your pro career. Did you do anything differently in your offseason program this winter after the extra work during the season?
Taylor G: Same training I've been doing now for the past 3 years. A lot of my success goes to Eric Cressey & Brian Kaplan at CSP, where I train.

DrM: Do you remember the first MLB game you attended? Also, who were your fave players when you were growing up?
Taylor G: Of course! Atlanta Braves @ Turner Field. I honestly never really had a favorite player.

DrM: Thanks so much Taylor, I really appreciate it and wish you absolutely the best this season!  

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

January Out, February In

The rumors have been building for some while, now it appears the new nets will be added to Riverwalk in February, in plenty of time to protect fans behind the dugouts for the Capitol City Classic. They will likely extend across the length of both home and visitors dugouts.

For more than a dozen years the Biscuits outfield went without the yellow line that marks the field of play across the outfield wall. It is a marking that is standard in just about every ballpark at every level, but Riverwalks lack of this line was finally addressed in 2016.
Outfield wall with railings but no yellow line, early April 2016
 The yellow line appeared to give umpires a better view to determine home run, but since the outfield wall is topped by railings that allow a ball to pass through, umpires still got it wrong at times.

Same section of fence visible, now with Yellow Line above railings by late April 2016
As strange as it may seem, agreeing on whether a ball went over the railings for a homer or through the railings for a ground-rule double has been a constant issue. Every season, multiple times. 

Every time it happens, or even appears to maybe could have happened, a manager comes onto the field to dispute the call.

Of course, this results in an umpire conference.

Umpire conferences always end up in an angry manager from one side or the other, often this leads to him venting his displeasure and of course, his subsequent ejection for such.

Its great entertainment but a dreadful delay during five or six games every summer.

The bigger news is that there will be other netting installed - across the outfield railings.

Hopefully by adding a row of chicken wire below the yellow line will keep balls in play inside the ballpark, making it easier for everyone to know what a home run looks like.

Former Biscuit Todd Glaesmann signed with the Cubs. Still just 26 years old, the G-Man split time between double-A Mobile and triple-A Reno last summer. A former 3rd round choice by the Rays, Glaesmann appeared in 132 games for Montgomery in 2013.

Todd Glaesmann

Machi with SFG
Another ex-Skit, reliever Jean Machi signed with the Mariners after his tenure with the SF Giants was up. Machi was with the Biscuits back in 2005-06, logging 16 saves and a 2.64era.

Machi has gone on to carve out a successful MLB career after working his way through the Biscuits bullpen, earning a pair of World Series rings with the Gigantes. Hard work pays off, Jean Machi was 30 years old before he made his major league debut!

And then there is Richie Shaffer, former Biscuits corner infielder. He has made so many offseason stops he should trade in his cleats for roller skates. Where he ends up noone knows, but he has a great attitude about it!

Ever wondered how much an umpire gets paid for his work at Biscuits games? Sure, we all have, some of these guys have major league potential while others seem to be straight outta the beer leagues. The best are the ones that don't get noticed!

A new agreement between baseball and the minor league umpires union sheds light on the situation of pay. With the new raise Single-A umps get a two thousand dollar monthly paycheck to start. At Double-A umpires get $2500 a month and Triple-A umpires receive $2900.

For an ump returning to the same level as last year, a raise of about a hundred bucks is standard but maxes out around five seasons. Each level offers a per diem, about $50 a day to eat on.

The new agreement no longer offers to supply uniforms for the officials, they will now be repaid for buying their own. As always the umpires are expect to start with perfection and get better as the game progresses!

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Biscuit Is Cool - An Interview with Steve Ascher

Biscuits pitcher Steve Ascher was drafted in 2014 and since then the Cutchogue, New York native has quickly worked his way up through the Rays affiliates.

Last year the southpaw hurler appeared in 26 games for Montgomery and made three starts - including the historic combined No-Hitter against the Jackson Generals. It was the third No-Hit trick turned in Biscuits history and the first one with multiple pitchers shouldering the load.

Recently Steve was kind enough to answer a few questions on topics both baseball and Biscuits!

Q: You were with the team coming out of spring training last year, how did you learn you were going to be a Biscuit?
A: The last few days of Spring Training, as teams are breaking, the organization puts up the rosters on a bulletin board and that's how we all find out.
Q: How do you feel about "cute" team names? Do players gain or lose morale playing for teams named Biscuits or Jumbo Shrimp or Baby Cakes?
A: You kind of learn to roll with it and enjoy it. I don't think you lose or gain morale from it. Plus the biscuit is cool!

Q: Whats the biggest adjustment for a player coming from Pt.Charlotte to Montgomery?
A: The biggest adjustment from High-A to Double A is mostly you have to work both sides of the plate with your fastball as well as being able to throw any pitch in any count. The hitters are much more patient and are more mature hitters.

Q: When you arrived in Montgomery, what were your impressions of the ballpark, or the city in general? Was it what you expected?
A: I wasn't really sure what to expect. The stadium is very unique and I love how it's worked into downtown. When my parents visited we did some exploring of the city and it was actually pretty fun!

1885 view of what is now Riverwalk Stadium on left

RC Lichtenstein
Q: What is it like working with the Biscuits pitching coach RC Lichtenstein?
A: It's great, working with new pitching coaches and picking their brains to see what little things you can do to be the best pitcher you can be is always an advantage.

Q: You started the No-Hitter game vs the Generals at Jackson on short notice, the first combined NoNo in Skitz history. How did you prepare for that start and how did you celebrate afterwards? 
A: Honestly I tried to keep it the same as a relief appearance. I knew I wasn't going to throw as many pitches as I did the last two starts so it would just be a few innings. And we didn't really celebrate like a normal no hitter, Brady just congratulated us and gave the 4 pitchers each a beer to celebrate with.

Q: On the no hitter, did you change your approach knowing you wouldn't have as many pitches to work with, pitching to contact more?
A: Jackson was a great hitting team, I just made sure to mix my pitches up and I remember throwing a lot of changeups that they just rolled over.

Q: I know you made the best catch of your career this offseason, congratulations on your marriage to Stephanie. Not really a question there but definitely a great moment worth mentioning!
A: Thank you very much! We headed to Negril, Jamaica for a week after! Best vacation ever!

Q: With just a few weeks to go before spring training, how do you prepare for camp? 
A: I've been throwing for the past 3 weeks and I'll start throwing bullpens next week. Been focusing big time on my core and leg strength as well as conditioning.

Q:  Fans are hoping to see you back with the Biscuits this April. What do you expect from the upcoming season, do you set personal goals or just let it happen as it happens?
A: I try to control what I can. Which is working as hard as I can to be the best pitcher and teammate I can be, and wherever the organization places me I will compete to the best of my ability!
But my goals are always high!

Q: Last question, a two part - what was your first MLB game attended and who were your fave players growing up?
Andy Pettitte
A: My first MLB game I couldn't tell you exactly. It was definitely a Yankees game and it was either with my family or with one of my best friends and his dad, 5 rows up from 1st base!

And one of my favorite players was always Andy Pettitte because as a lefty I looked up to how he could work with 88-90 and still dominate.

Q: Thanks so much, Steve, that is awesome! Is there anything you want to say or someone you want to give a shout out to before we wrap up?
A: Nope all set! Thank you Shane. I am really looking forward to getting down to Spring Training and continuing to strive for my goal and dream of being in the big leagues!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Rickwood, Old Skitz pics, Gelks & Minor

is scant and far between.

This just in, ca 1904
Some season ticketholders are being warned of the likelihood of extra netting being installed at some point, affecting sightlines and views from the stands. If you are gonna be irked sitting behind a net that wasn't there last year, you should check with the ticket office about the availability of seats elsewhere. Nothing official. Yet. Just sayin.

Get a job with the Biscuits when they hold their annual job fair in February. However there may be one gig that is possibly unavailable. The vacated position of season ticket concierge is not a lock to be filled, sources say.

Since I don't have a whole lot of fresh info on the team, I thought I would share a couple of things I ran across that may interest Biscuits fans.

Back in 2005 the Biscuits were supposed to face the Barons at the annual throwback game but Mother Nature refused to cooperate. A rain soaked field was deemed unplayable and the Montgomery team has never been invited back. For whatever reason I have found it almost impossible to find any photos of that day, but recently uncovered a couple of gems from that rainout.

Who do we have here? Biscuits relax and wait in vain for the field to dry

The uniforms are classic throwbacks to the original opening day of Birminghams brand new Rickwood Field in 1910. Yes those two teams matched up in the first contest at the now venerable yard. On the hill for the 2005 version of the long standing rivalry was Biscuits ace James Shields.

"Big Game James" Shields at the Rickwood for Montgomery

Rickwood Parking opening day 1910
The date has been announced for this years Barons throwback game, May 31st. Its a wednesday and the guest of honor is Hall of Famer Juan Marichal.

A fantastic day is in store for all those who enjoy baseball the way it should be played and meeting a legend like Marichal makes it even sweeter.

My opinion on Birmingham's Rickwood Classic, the annual throwback game at the oldest minor league park in the nation? It's one day a year, with a special character everyone wants to see and everyone is full of joy for the game - its baseball Christmas!

I enjoy it so much I was interviewed last year, skip to about 4:05 for the weirdo in the House of David uni!

Two passings of local note recently, Harry Minor and Greg Jelks.

Harry Minor
Harry Minor came to Montgomery in 1956 when the integrated double-A team was sent packing mid-season and replaced with a lower level, segregated Little Rock club.

Harry had appeared with the Little Rock Travelers in '55 and was in his second tour with the team when politics, civil rights and baseball collided in Montgomery that summer.

Though he would only reach triple-A as a player, Harry Minor made a name for himself after his playing career as a scout, most notably the NY Mets 1986 Champion squad. Harry was instrumental in the Mets acquiring Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Mookie Williams and Lenny Dykstra and worked with the NY Mets for over 40 years.

Greg Jelks, a Centre Alabama native, had just ten games in the show with the '87 Phillies and garnered just one lone MLB hit. Greg played in eight minor league seasons but enjoyed much more success and popularity as a professional ballplayer in overseas leagues.

Jelks with Perth
Earning dual citizenship during his time playing in Australia during the 1990s, Greg made his home in Perth and coached as well as played for the Australian baseball team that won silver in the 2000 Olympics at Sydney.

Greg Jelks was known as a baseball legend in his adopted country. On receiving the news the Perth Heat, his former Austrailian team, honored him before a recent home game with a pregame ceremony - then the Perth starter tearfully buried a Jelks baseball card in the dirt behind the mound before starting the game.

ca 1926

As part of my unplanned Dr.Miraculous Speaks 2017 lecture tour, I will be offering a presentation on The History of Baseball in Montgomery to the Alabama Parks and Recreation Association's annual conference.

I was honored to be asked to speak and on Monday, January 30th at 1pm I will share my baseball history knowledge for an hour in the Capitol I room at the Renaissance Hotel downtown, just a block from where the Southern League founders held their first organizational meeting in the 1880's.

Its tough to condense a city's baseball history into one hour and cover all the good stuff. I will try to focus on Montgomery's sometimes rocky relationship with baseball, the games connection to the growth of the city and nearly-forgotten stories of players and teams past.

Although this event is for APRA members only, I am always happy to speak for groups on the history of baseball in our area, just hit me up!