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The SportsTalk Shop: Trade Deadline ’13 Thoughts

July 29, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

 

Trade Deadline ’13 Thoughts

With everyone calling for the Phillies to “sell” and begging Ruben Amaro Jr. to call up nearly every significant prospect in the Phillies farm system (I had one viewer e-mail me the Phillies starting lineup that he’d like to see for 2014—and it included only two names on the current MLB roster!), let’s take a breath and take a realistic view of the players who COULD be in the majors at some point.

Of these two players, Cody Asche is by far having the best Triple-A season among the “prospects,” and probably the most realistic shot at starting opening day with the Phillies a year from now. However, while everyone I’ve spoken with loves his glove, he looks to be—at best—an “average” hitter, with very little power (a little more than Ben Revere, a smart base runner, but with average speed.

As for Tyson Gillies, Amaro spoke VOLUMES when the Phillies desperately needed someone to replace Revere—and later Dominic Brown—and he responded by keeping three catchers, and re-calling light-hitting Michael Martinez and journeyman Steve Susdorf ahead of him. It may not be unreasonable to think that Gillies, Phillippe Aumount, and J. C. Ramerez—the three players acquired for Cliff Lee back in 2009—all might be out of the Phils’ organization by the end of the 2014, instead of leading their re-building process.

Darin Ruf was another player I’ve often been asked about. I saw quite a bit in Triple-A and, at times, looked like a competent Major League bat. He would work the count many times, but also got frustrated when teams tried to pitch around him. I don’t know if he’s the left fielder of the future the Phillies need him to be — although with Ryan Howard’s tenuous injury status, he might be a guy that has a long career with the Phillies as an extra man, providing pop off the bench.

Adam Morgan and Greg Smith were the pitchers that impressed me the most so far this summer, although the latter may not have the velocity it takes to be a steady Major League starter.

Honestly, from what I’ve seen and from what I’m hearing, I don’t know if there’s much minor league help on the near-horizon, with the exception of Double-A third baseman Maikel Franco and southpaw Jesse Biddle, and Amaro’s insistence on not trading away these few precious commodities support that theory. (I’m not including Freddie Galvis with these names as he clearly was sent down to the minors to get some at-bats and be ready with whatever hole they’ll need him to fill next). With inherent raises in store for some returning Phillies players (and significant upgrades for an arbitration guy like Kyle Kendrick), I don’t know if the team will have much financial flexibility to acquire very many new names—certainly not enough to solve all the team’s current question marks?

What players currently in the organization do you like and/or want to see more of? What direction should the Phillies head next? Among our guests on the August 22nd edition of “SportsTalk” (live at 6 pm on RCN-TV) will be Phillies Beat Writer Brad Wilson, who will talk about the Phillies, Eagles and other local and national sports issues. Send your comments to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we can read and respond to your comments on that program.

The SportsTalk Shop: Connie Mack Baseball

July 10, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

 

Connie Mack Baseball

It was our pleasure for RCN SportsTalk videographer Mike Kingsley and myself to attend the Connie Mack All-Star Game at Limeport Stadium. This year was a little extra special due to the league’s season-long anniversary celebration for its 60th year of existence. It gives young athletes a place to play under-the-lights (which is still a big deal to many 14 to 16 year-olds) and to play in this special venue. While the score itself is not important, it definitely had more-than-the-normal number of highlights—both offensively, defensively, and on the mound—in addition to some unique experiences. A few of them include:

* Lehigh Township’s Matt Miller coming through with multiple hits in clutch situations to give the “Green Team” a lead it would not relinquish.

* Pen Argyl’s Zach Luke striking out the side in his one inning of work (to allow for more pitchers getting into the game, pitchers were limited to just one inning).

* The “bull-rush” of players who stormed the pizza guy when it arrived later in the evening. I gave a heads-up to stay out of the players’ way when it was delivered, and quickly realized the warnings were on-the-mark when the entire dugout of 27 players (per side) emptied on-mass to gobble down the complimentary meal.

* The “thank you’s” we received for coming to this event were not necessary, but very much appreciated. We’d love to spend more time at community events and try to cover as many local organizations as possible. It was our pleasure to showcase the kids who work so hard at this wonderful game of baseball

We’re going to have more highlights and be talking in much more detail about Connie Mack’s 60th Anniversary season on the July 25th edition of “RCN SportsTalk” (which will be live from 6-7 pm on RCN-TV). It would be great if fans of this organization would contact us with their support for the league and thoughts on Connie Mack’s past, present, and future. Below is a sample of the video we shot and comments from the “winning” All-Star Team members:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZkERjewD0lU

Feel free to post a comment or question on Connie Mack baseball and send us an email at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com. Tune in on July 25th at 6pm on RCN-TV as we’ll be reading and responding to your comments, as well as talking more about America’s Pastime and this special youth organization.

The SportsTalk Shop: Blue Mountain League Thoughts

July 2, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

SportsTalk Shop: Blue Mountain League Thoughts

It’s always good to sit down and chat with the people of Blue Mountain League, as we had President Bob Varju, Secretary/Treasurer Tim Fisher and Orioles Player/Manager Dave Stoudt on our most recent “RCN SportsTalk” show. In addition to talking about the first half of the season, their charity All-Star event and previewing what looks to be a certain horse race for the top four playoff spots this summer, we had to spend some time talking about the man the league was dedicating this season to, the legendary Ron Punkin Miller, and how much he meant to the league and to this area:

www.youtube.com/embed/Ifp2jniZZzQ

The entire show is available on RCN’s Video-on-Demand for free for the next several weeks.

A few other items we discussed during the program and in-between segments during our commercial breaks (when Fisher wasn’t chopping me to bits:)

 • If you haven’t been following along, this is one of the most competitive BML seasons in recent memory; as recently as this past Tuesday, there were four teams tied for first, and two more teams no more than a game-and-a-half back.

• Although rain has been a major issue and most team are very backed-up with numerous games left to be played with less than a month left in their season, pitching on most nights as been very solid. We had a nice 2-1 pitchers’ duel last Tuesday on RCN’s “Game of the Week” and there have been a bunch of young pitchers stepping up and performing well.

• Speaking of youth, how about all the major contributions of the rookies and one- and two-year players this season! It used to be rare for more than one rookie on a team to earn even a regular starting role, but the talent of the league this year has really been on the rise with multiple rookies per team making significant contributions. This should make for some great careers to come for individuals and for the league.

• Northampton Giants’ first baseman Dave Gulick has been making bats, not just for the BML, but also for local teams, minor league teams, and even bats that were used in the World Baseball Classic. If you want a good deal, get in contact with him.

What are your memories of Punkin? What BML teams have impressed you so far this season, and which squads are most likely to make the playoffs? Post a comment or email them to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com.

The SportsTalk Shop: 2013 Phillies Judgement Day

June 24, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

The Day of Reckoning is Coming … Soon!

The time for evaluating the current Philadelphia Phillies ball club is nearly over. There are very few games left for any one player to try to disprove what he actually has shown in his ability through the first 74 games of the regular season. The now pseudo-trade deadline — and with so many teams still in the hunt for the extra wild card spot (can you believe the Padres are actually ahead of the Phils?) — is a month away, and some very long, hard decisions will have to be made regarding some of the longest tenured, and most beloved Phillies ball players of all-time.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can kiss Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins & Philly fan favorites good-bye over the next 30 days. However, decisions will have to be made to realistically pursue offers to trade these athletes that will go down as the greatest players in club history at their respective position. Names like Utley and Rollins will be given serious consideration someday for baseball’s most precious honor — the Hall of Fame. But that is — or at least — SHOULD BE IRRELEVENT NOW. This Phillies team is NOT going to win a World Series as is. They are not “a player or two” away, nor is one more player returning from the disabled list going to put this team over the top. They cannot wait any longer — they have to change the dynamics of these teams, and unfortunately, they are being buoyed by players that are practically UNTRADEABLE due to their weighty contracts.

Consider these facts about the Phightin’ Phils that are indisputable, and are contributing directly to the team’s current status (as of this writing) of four games under the 500-mark and an ebbing eight-game back of the division-leading Braves:

• The fact that Cole Hamels has accumulated 11 losses before the second day of summer is UNACCEPTABLE. The Phillies pour the majority of their “free agent monies” into Hamels’ pocketbook and pretty much denied the team from trying to add any type of significant offensive has — at least for this season — proven to be a major mistake. Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson and J. R. Richards in their prime would have difficulty pitching to a .500-record with this offense behind him, and the fact that King Cole has had lapses in concentration even when given a lead cannot be tolerated when so much was riding on this season (in particular, his pitching arm).

• The fact that Ryan Howard (while riding his current $125-million contract) is battling an injury does not excuse his poor approach in the batters’ box. If he cannot base his back foot and launch mammoth home runs to even the deepest ball parks, as he has done in the past, then he has to change his approach and find a way to drive in balls via other avenues (i.e., hitting the ball the other way, working the count late in games when the team is down by more than one with no one on base, et al). The fact that his batting average dropped 15-points when Dom Brown was moved behind him for “protection” while Brown went on one of the most torrid offensive tears this team has seen in decades is proof that Howard’s lack of ANY significant offensive production (he took TWO ‘golden sombreros’ over the last several weeks) does not have, or worse yet, no longer has, the ability to carry this team means this team has to make some major changes over the next month.

These are the team’s leaders. They have not been on the disabled list nor have any other acceptable excuses, and they have not lived up to the trust the Phillies’ front office put upon them — rightly or wrongly — this past winter. The players they have around them are simply not good enough to overcome these glaring shortcomings.

What other major problems are contributing to the Phillies dismal record through the first three months of the season, and what SHOULD the Phillies do before the “trading deadline?” Post a comment with your thoughts on this team’s future and what moves you think need to occur this summer.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: A Game of Community Spirit

June 13, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

The SportsTalk Shop: “A Game of Community Spirit”

One of the responsibilities in my role as an on-air presence in the media is that I am privileged to be asked to speak at banquets and in classrooms, to emcee programs and to be asked to participate in special events. One of my favorite activities I continue to be asked to participate in is the Sacred Heart Celebrity Basketball game, played each year at the famed Rockne Hall in Allentown.
 
It’s not the biggest event of the year, nor does it warrant a healthy admission fee. However, it is a very special occurrence that the students, faculty and staff of the Archdiocese look forward to every year. It is the climax of a special week of activities in the school district. The basketball game is the brainchild of Morning Call writer and Sacred Heart Middle School Principal Jim Krupka … truly one of the very special school leaders in the community. Jim not only works tirelessly with the students in his building, but you frequently see him out in the community at Central Catholic events. He’s always there to support his kids in their endeavors, whether it be football, basketball, a school play or just about any activity a Viking student is involved in.
 
After a busy week of many diverse activities, the “celebrity” game features a team of politicians, community leaders, past and/or present standout Central Catholic players and others (that’s me) who take on the Sacred Heart students, faculty and staff members on the other squad.

The statistics from the game are of no importance (I went 5-7 from the floor, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 TO and an embarrassingly badly missed wide-open layup). Truth be told, our objective each year is to have a lead late in the game to try to make us feel good about ourselves and our ..uh, ahem … athletic ability. We only “let” the other team win so that the kids also feel good about themselves (some years it’s MUCH easier to lose than others), which is a much more important goal.

The real gem of this activity is the bonding and school-spirit that is evident each year among the student body. In an age where you don’t go too many days without seeing a negative report on the news regarding schools and an adverse student-faculty relationship (there have been 3 ominous news events to this effect in the Lehigh Valley in just the last month), it is refreshing to see the bond the people at Sacred Heart have with each other. This event includes administration, teachers, students, parents, family and friends all coming together and cheering one another on. There’s no razzing, taunting, nor ever a negative comment said during this event. Each year I take a moment and absorb the good-feelings exchange exhibited by the teachers and students at this event. I’m truly impressed and admire the respect that these two groups show for each other at this time.

I remember one student vs. faculty game when I was in high school (before buses were invented, of course). There was shouting and heckling of the teachers and non-playing teachers were getting on students. The students who weren’t skipping school at that point could really care less what was happening on the court and were just thrilled to get out of their final classes for the week. It wasn’t necessarily a “bad” event, but it never really was a “fun”, school-spirited event. We certainly didn’t feel “unified” at this one-time game.

That’s not the case at this annual event. Several of the school leaders say a few words before the game, usually invoking a feeling of thankfulness of what we do have, and compassion for people who may not have the good fortune or the ability to participate in everyday duties we sometimes take for granted. With all the talk of anti-private schools in the community (see some of our other blog posts), this event helps the students rally around a feeling of pride for their school community. For this event, there are no thoughts of school politics, nor even a care about the final score.

A big thrill for me is to have played on the same court over the years with some of the all-time great Vikings and Vikettes basketball players — a few of them have gone on to be major starts on the collegiate level. This year I was honored to call Central Catholic current standout athletes Mike Kammerer and Jim Vaughn my teammates. It was interesting after having announced their games for RCN over the last several years and seeing them develop into wonderfully gifted adults. The players I face on the Sacred Heart team each spring include athletes that I’ll see a couple years from now playing for the varsity teams. Hopefully, they might even be writing their names in the Central Catholic history books! A recent player I played “against” in this game was current Viking star Jean-Lee Baez, who you could tell in 8th grade was going to be a great talent on the Lehigh Valley basketball scene.

Overall, it’s a fun day for everyone involved and I’m truly honored to have been able to play in most of the 18 games that have been held each spring. If only other school districts could come together and celebrate people’s unique talents, while at the same time bonding together for a common goal — even if it’s just to pummel a bunch of (mostly) out-of-shape and past their prime “celebrities” (that’s me again) in a game of hoops.

The SportsTalk Shop: Mike & Brian Schneider

June 4, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

Keith Groller is one of my heroes.

Seriously.

Let me explain…

I was covering Philadelphia pro sports teams in the early 90s and would frequently chat with him at the old Spectrum when he had the 76ers beat for the Morning Call. As many sports fans know, the Sixers’ squads during this time period were some of the worst teams in modern day Philly sports. I was still thrilled to be covering pro sports teams for local radio stations, and thought I had a healthy jump on the “normal path to success” as a sportscaster by covering a pro team in a major market—even if the team was pathetic and the players were less-than-exhilarated to be interviewed each night on the new ways that they had discovered to LOSE games. Quite frankly, many players I interviewed showed little desire to play basketball—let alone deal with the same media members night in and night out.

Long story short. Keith did the unthinkable and committed what I thought at that time was career suicide by giving up his pro sports beat and instead, focused his work on high school sports. Once I got married and started to raise a family, I realized that Keith might actually be onto something, and that there were actually rewards to NOT covering pro sports. One of those advantages was the chance to deal with people who actually ASK a writer or broadcaster coming to their events. Subsequently, I found out that covering local sports gives you an opportunity to get to know and understand athletes on a much better level than the abrasive “stick-a-microphone-in-their-face” style of interviewing that is conducted with most major leaguers.

Enter the Schneiders.

Mike was…is…and may forever be one of the most helpful people on the planet. In numerous ways over the years, he’s helped myself, as well as other media members, in ways too many to mention in one blog post. One of his many gifts was that of a coach and an educator, and one of his greatest “products” was his nephew, Brian, who this January retired from Major League baseball after an 18-year professional baseball career that included stops in New York, Washington, and even for his hometown Phillies. Ironically, he was also one of the first high school stars I had the good fortune to cover in my role as a ‘non-pro sports’ media guy, only to have him become one of the greatest MLB players who grew up here in Northampton County.

Through his experiences, which included playing for Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, being the catcher for Barry Bonds’ record-breaking home run, playing in the World Baseball Classic, catching the greatest Phillies pitching rotation of all time, et al, he has continued to remain classy and speaks of great pride when he discusses his hometown of Northampton. He has continued to reach out to the community, donate his time to local charities and, as I learned from speaking with him, finds great rewards in trying to help young catchers and potential major league players by sharing his baseball wisdom. In a way, I felt like I had come full circle by having the pleasure of him being on our show to discuss his career, both on-and-off the field. Here’s a clip of our “SportsTalk” show in which he discusses what it was like to catch the first ball thrown out by then-President George Bush at the first-ever Washington Nationals home baseball game:

Brian Schneider and President Bush

Brian also has developed a close relationship with one of the greatest players in Phillies history, Chase Utley. Ironically, Brian was in the locker room (as a visitor) and talked with Utley about his recent injury, just a few hours before Brian appeared on our show. We asked Brian about Chase’s injured oblique, the truth about his sometimes “distant” persona with the media and whether Utley—a free agent after this season—would return to Philadelphia next year:

Brian Schneider Discusses Chase Utley

Thanks (AGAIN!) to Mike for helping us in setting up the interview (the entire show is available on RCN’s video-on-demand for free for several weeks). Because of people like Mike and Brian Schneider and the professional way they conduct themselves as individuals, it can rejuvenate ‘local’ sports fans, in more ways than they can probably imagine.

Feel free to post comments about your memories of Brian as a amateur athlete from the Valley, and as a Major League ballplayer, and let us know if there’s other “home grown” athletes you’d like to mention that “made it big.”

The SportsTalk Shop: Local Baseball Championships

May 29, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

While most of the RCN crew was broadcasting the LVC Baseball Championships, “SportsTalk” cameraman Mike Kingsley and I had the privilege of reporting on the Colonial League Championship in Limeport. It was a special night for a few reasons.

First … what a tremendous turnout! I decided to drive my personal car to the event and allowed Mike to have our “press spot”, not realizing that I would end up parking about a quarter-mile away due to the tremendous turnout and a completely overloaded parking area. Needless to say, it was a beautiful night and I NEEDED some exercise, so everything worked out fine. Too often, baseball (and other spring sports) are hurt by having to play games in the afternoon when parents/family members/friends, etc. are working and can’t see their kids in action. With this event, the under-the-lights atmosphere of the historic/unique Limeport Stadium (complete with cows in the right field “bullpen”) was heightened by the jammed-packed stands. It was great representation for the Colonial League to have so many people in attendance.

Second … thanks to the fans who came up to me and had so many nice things to say about the spring sports season, the kids, the teams, the great ball games and the numerous complements our “SportsTalk” team members received for our coverage of local teams and players. There are so many wonderful people in this area. It’s always good to talk about the positives in the community when dealing with high school athletics.

Third … Congratulations to the championship-winning Falcons, who are getting used to quality performances in big game situations. The Salisbury baseball team won their second consecutive league title, and fourth championship in the last five years (3-leagues & one district title). The “kids” were great to speak with and truly handled themselves with class and respect for the runner-ups, a very good Southern Lehigh team. The Falcons know how to play the game and appreciate their accomplishments, without letting it inflate egos or affect their focus.

Salisbury Baseball

You can view the segment at http://youtu.be/Wt3wS3W8isI

Justin Aungst had a particularly spectacular night; keeping hitters off-balance all evening on the mound, while providing the only offense the team would need–a first-inning, two-run home run over the left field fence. The team made some great plays behind him and they didn’t hurt themselves with mental errors (this team rarely does under Manager Mike Pochron). Their “celebrity” status (see the number of Youtube hits for their basketball game’s last second playoff win over highly-touted Wilson) hasn’t affected the players during their near-perfect baseball season to date (ironically, their only loss thus far was to Wilson). This group of underclassmen, most of whom have played together since third-grade, look for even higher goals the rest of this season.

Likewise, we had produced a feature on the Whitehall baseball team a few weeks ago on our “RCN SportsTalk” show (available on video-on-demand), and they, too, have envisioned some lofty goals thanks to their very workmanlike approach and success. Here are some of the highlights from the Zephyrs’ LVC championship win.

Lehigh Valley Conference HS Baseball Championship 2013 Highlights

You can view the segment at http://youtu.be/WwU7R1cQ1RE

Post below who you would like to win the District XI baseball playoffs. Can any teams from the RCN viewing area make a run in the state playoffs? Selfishly, I hope so. Gary Laubach, Scott Barr and I will once again be working with the RCN crew to broadcast the PIAA state finals at State College again this year. While I find it interesting to meet and interview new people every year at this event, it’s also nice to see some familiar faces in the title games.

The SportsTalk Shop: The Phillies Farm System: May 2013 Report

May 21, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

Excuse me for making an interjection amongst angry fans who are upset with the current state of the Phillies roster, but contrary to the public fandom’s opinion, “the cupboard is NOT bare” in the Phillies’ minor league system.

Philadelphia PhilliesPeople will point to the fact at the overall decline in ranking according to Baseball America — something that cannot be disputed. There are clearly less “prospects” in the Phillies minor league system than there were a few years ago .. before the days of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and even Ben Revere. General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr., using the mantra that most Phillies fans have been clamoring for DECADES to do, went for the jugular with “win now/damn the future” deals to improve the team in 2009 to the present to try to win baseball’s ultimate prize. As memory serves, nearly all of those deals (except the second Lee trade) were met with universal praise and admiration (and backhanded derogatory comments towards former GM Ed Wade, who took an opposite approach) for making the “tough deals” to try to win a World Series. The price, of course, is that in order to obtain top-of-the-line talent, which the Phils have done, they would have to give up most of their young talented players in those deals—the majority of them still have not panned out with the team they were traded to.

Now that the team is floundering (as of their 16-21 record), baseball fans in the Eastern Pennsylvania region are upset that Amaro can’t twitch his nose and make a power-hitting outfielder appear. You could argue that he over-evaluated the talent on this current big league roster and put too much faith in the bounce-back abilities of Halladay and Ryan Howard. However, to say that the organization’s minor leagues are in shambles is just not accurate. The Braves, one of the best teams at grooming minor leagues to contribute to the parent club, have done an excellent job over the last few decades of developing at least one or two home-grown players a year to help out the varsity squad. Most teams fall short of that goal. So let’s look ahead at some potential openings/holes in the current Phillies roster and analyze if the front office has provided efficient insurance down on the farm.

Second Base (Chase Utley). With his contract expiring at the end of the season, there is a huge “unknown” as for how long his oft-injured knees will hold out. But down in Triple-A, the Phillies have perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the spring so far. Cesar Hernandez (as of May 13th) is hitting .336 in 140 Abs with 10 extra base hits, a .392 OBP and is 10-11 in steal attempts. A serviceable defensive 2nd baseman and with continued improvement, it wouldn’t be outlandish to envision him replacing Utley where he has frequently been in the Phils’ lineup (the number-two slot).

First Base (Ryan Howard). With Charlie Manual’s recent tendency of sitting Ryan Howard against the majorities of southpaws, it increases the opportunity for another home-grown player, Darin Ruf, (.294, 5-HR, 21-RBIs in 125 AB-s through 5/13) to get playing time at a position that he has had success in defensively. Ruf has looked alright when I’ve seen him in action in left field with the IronPigs (he’s basically playing 5 games at left and 2 games at first so far this season). A combination of him at first base, DH (in American League parks) and left field (in a semi-platoon/rotation with Dom Brown, possibly even shifting to center for a few innings a week?) might help the team’s long-struggling offense. And although the thought of trading Howard and his mega-contract is unlikely, the Phils do have an option should they find a taker for the “Big Piece.”

Catcher (Carlos Ruiz). This might be the biggest disappointment of the season—and not just because of his slash line of .200/.256/.225 as of May 13th. The alleged brain cramp of not getting a prescription for his amphetamines certainly put the team and himself behind the 8-ball, both offensively and defensively, in a pivotal year for the veteran. Ruiz is one of a handful of core players who are eligible for free agency after this season. The Phillies clearly are not happy with his lack of judgment and it might factor in when it comes time to negotiate. Tommy Joseph wasn’t exactly tearing it up in Triple-A before going on the DL with a concussion, but scouts and team officials seem genuinely high on the young receiver acquired in the Hunter Pence trade, and more than one of the Phillies beat writers have indicated that if there’s any place the team might “gamble” on a young player for next season, they would bank on Joseph.

Third Base (Michael Young). In a prior blog entry and on our “RCN SportsTalk” show (available on VOD), we’re already debated in some detail with IronPigs media members about the potential of Triple-A infielder Cody Asche and the chances on him manning the hot corner in Philadelphia by Opening Day 2014. Although Young has been the team’s best hitter—average-wise—and poses a consistent, professional hitting approach that the team has lacked the last few seasons, Young’s age (he’ll be 38 in October) and lack of power will work against (but not preclude) him when the team considers which of the current crop of free agent players they’ll make a play for this offseason (would you prefer Young or Utley batting 3rd?). Even if Young would return (he can play other positions), Asche has continued to get positive reviews and improve his Triple-A numbers (.272 BA, 11 extra base hits in 125 ABs) as the season has unfolded.

Shortstop, Center Field and “Anywhere else.” Following the three hits in his first three at-bats against the D-backs in the final game in Arizona, home-grown Freddy Galvis had his batting average up to .293 while playing five different positions (including spring training) and, quite honestly, looked better in the field than some of the “regulars.” Whether he finds an everyday home in the near future, or becomes a valuable “super-utility” player that can spell people on days-off and/or fill-in when injuries occur, his contributions to the organization should not go unnoticed by Philadelphia sports fans. Radio analyst Larry Anderson had opined in a recent broadcast that he would feel comfortable with Galvis playing at practically every position except pitcher and catcher, and the word from people who have been around the switch-hitter have told me the young Venezuelan has the strong mental makeup and baseball IQ to handle multiple roles.

Pitchers. Jonathan Pettibone, Tyler Cloyd and Justin DeFratus have all come through the Phillies system and have already helped the team (Cloyd pitched well enough to earn a “W” in Arizona), while filling in for hurlers who were either injured or were not performing adequately. A few more may help the team this year (Joe Savery, Jake Diekman, and Mike Stutes) or a year or two from now (Adam Morgan and Jesse Biddle), and if Kyle Kendrick (another Phils’ farmhand) continues to pitch the way he has for the last five baseball months, the team could still have a quality starting rotation for the next several years.

Without the ability to go back in time, I think it’s too hypocritical to criticize most of the moves Amaro has made (the Lee to Seattle and Revere deals the exceptions). If none of these young players mentioned above pan out, then you have every right to rip the current front office for their inability to correctly evaluate young talent and for not providing due diligence in maintaining the long-term success of the franchise (something Amaro stated he was doing by acquiring Philippe Aumont and others from the Mariners—which NO ONE is happy with now). However, if the Phillies fail to make the playoffs again in 2013, at least we have some young players with some legitimate upside to watch at Citizens Bank Park in September ’13 and beyond.

What other mistakes have the Phillies front office made since 2008, and do you think the current staff is doing a good job? What are your thoughts on the Phillies’ prospects? Post a comment below or send us an email to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and tune in for our live “RCN SportsTalk” show every Thursday at 6pm on RCN-TV to voice your opinions.

The SportsTalk Shop: Time for the Leaders to Step Up

May 13, 2013 By Chris Michael 1 Reply

People have been complaining about the Phillies’ core for several years now…Ryan Howard strikes out too much, Jimmy Rollins pops up too much, Chase Utley should have a better off-season workout program. All of these complains are legit (as ALL players have flaws to their game) and certainly some players (Howard) seem to be unfairly targeted more than others (Utley). But more than any other facet of their game, there’s one aspect that all three of those players have lacked before embarking on the west coast trip. It’s an aspect that is frequently overlooked, yet vital to their worth as mega-million dollar athletes, and is imperative if this core of players is, in fact, going to have one last hurrah before it gets broken apart. What’s needed here…is leadership.

There have been mini-breakdowns all season long that, by itself, is not that big of a deal: Kevin Frandsen making a throw on a near-finished play that goes wide, allowing base runners to further advance; Rollins taking a throw in front of the bag instead of a “drop-tag” which would have erased a baserunner, et al. These small lapses in focus have built up so that it is now accepted in the Phillies clubhouse, and they are the cancer than erodes a playoff-contenting team to the sub-.500 status this team is currently looking at being—and staying for the near-term. The 2008 team did not have these reoccurring lapses…nor did its succeeding teams through 2011. Those mistakes were written off in 2012 because the leaders (Utley, Howard) weren’t around. I would get violently ill every time I heard the “wait ‘til Ultey gets back” and “if we had everyone, we’d be in first place” soundbites that permeated throughout last season, and all it did was put more pressure on the team to do well out of the gate here in 2013. Something it certainly has not done.

Well now everyone’s back. The excuses are now exhausted, and it’s time for those leaders to step to the plate—both figuratively and literally. I don’t expect Howard to mirror his MVP season, nor would I bank on Rollins hitting .280 again. But there is something that one, two…or all three of those players need to do. It makes for boring quotes, but these guys have to be “real leaders” in the clubhouse. Guys need to be focused at ALL TIMES and this team has to have the same intensity it had when guys like Aaron Rowand patrolled center field. What Rollins, Utley, and Howard lack from the prime in power and speed, they need to make up with status in the clubhouse and a desire to push the younger guys to exceed their potential.

We see glimpses of what some of the young players can be, but when Dom Brown, John Mayberry, Ben Revere and the other younger players are going through slumps, there’s no reason why they can play a little beyond their abilities, or show a little fire to help ignite the team. We’ll forever remember Rowand trying to take out the metal wall in centerfield, Pete Rose scampering to first base on a walk, Marty Bystrom firing a pitch at George Brett’s head…those are the moments that can lift a team to greater heights and make a far-larger impact than just doing what’s expected of you.

Whether it is something that Rollins does on the base paths himself (like running full-tilt to the next base), or if it’s Utley going behind closed doors and challenging a player to step-up…it needs to be done—NOW! There’s no more time for “waiting for players,” there’s no Cliff Lee or Roy Oswald trade that will magically solve every problem with this year’s team, and at this point, even if a miracle-trade can be engineered once again by Ruben Amaro Jr. to muster together the remaining prospects to make one major addition to this team, I still don’t think it will be enough to give this team what the fans, the players, and the entire Delaware Valley thought would be a certainty back in the winter of 2008—and that’s a 2nd World Series championship.

Of course, in the winter of 2008, we thought we would have our “leaders” for some time.

The SportsTalk Shop: The Latest on the “Super Conference”

May 7, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

The Latest on the “Super Conference”

First of all, thanks to all for the comments about our “Former Athletic Directors/Lehigh Valley Super Conference” edition of “SportsTalk” on May 2nd. We certainly had a ton of responses about the program. I’m glad to see the feedback highlights that we tried to balance the conversation and look at opposing points of view, addressing different sides of the issues, and also the potential impact for many of the schools in our coverage area. Clearly, the credit lies with our great panelists on the program.

Here’s a video clip with just a few opinions from our show—the entire program is available on RCN’s Video on Demand. I also have a few observations and comments that were made off-air that might be of interest to you.

Watch Sports Talk on YouTube

Watch Sports Talk on YouTube

Watch on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEn_GV2249k

 Here are a few items addressed during our commercial breaks and some “general consensus” points that were achieved by our panel.

Sports Talk panelists debate.

I was glad the panelists universally agreed that no team should be left out of whatever the new league may or may not be. There are clearly differing opinions on how the private schools should be grouped with the public schools. They range from having schools like Becahi and Central Catholic move to 4A classification to having a separate division of private schools—naming a private-school division winner and then having them play the public school division winner(s) for an overall league champion.

The topic of “super conference” is discussed.

An idea raised about a “super conference” involving “weighting teams” into separate divisions according to their abilities seems utopian, yet very problematic. The suggestion is that every two years, schools are basically placed into three categories based on past success: the best teams in one division, the “middle-of-the-road” teams in a second, and the struggling teams in a third. While that would be great for schools like Allen, Dieruff and Pocono Mountain-West for many of their sports, I see nothing but arguing over “which teams belong where,” and complaints about the success of teams in the “weaker division” while schools who play tougher competition suffer more losses. In addition, when you factor in the stipulation that teams must have a .500-or-better record to make the playoffs, the possibilities of griping and protesting of final outcomes could be endless.

The pros and cons of the“weighted points system”.

I do, however, personally like the “weighted points system” that District XI has come up with for its playoffs. If something like that could be tailored to a new league (maybe including ALL teams from the MVC, LVC, Colonial League and Pius X?), I think that has a better chance of success. Do we really need a league champion and/or would “division titles” be sufficient? In some cases (usually for bigger schools), a loss early in the district playoffs obliterates the success of winning a league championship. I’ve gotten the sense from some people in recent years that winning a league honor is not nearly as important in the Valley as it once was. The area has been so competitive recently that it almost seems that winning a league championship is the kiss-of-death for that team having long-term post-season success. For some sports, like basketball, the league champ almost never seems to win the district title—which also means a primo spot entering the all important state playoffs.

A wide range of topics are discussed by the panelists.

I thought it was interesting to hear the wide ranging opinions among just the people on our show, and can only imagine how tough it will be to try to make “everyone” happy in the region. Our panelists’ thoughts on the latest league news ranged from “it’s nothing new” and “nothing will come of this” to truly strong regret that this idea has been raised and heartfelt sadness that some schools might very possibly be forced to look outside the Valley to find teams to play for next year’s school calendar.

Don’t forget … the MVC asked for a decision by the LVC teams by the end of May. At the very least, there will be heated discussions around the Valley for the next several weeks. I do have confidence, however, that things will be resolved with the student-athletes’ best interests in mind.

One other note NOT related to the super-conference. My thanks to Northampton softball head coach Sally Whittaker-Kahan and her Konkrete Kids for being so gracious and classy when we stopped by with our “SportsTalk” camera to do a feature on the team for this week’s show.

After winning its first 17-straight games, the K-Kids lost its first ever game right before we stopped by to interview the squad about their great success this year. As is often the case and is the nature of “our world,” we had tried on several occasions to either stop by their practice or take in one of their games earlier this year to do a feature on their success, and had to reschedule our interviews multiple times because of scheduling conflicts, weather postponements and the like. When we finally stopped by to talk with them, they were coming off a tough loss to a really good Whitehall squad; yet the K-Kids paid the Zephyrs their proper respect and still answered our questions very eagerly and intelligently, not sulking or hanging their heads about the defeat.

I know coaches hate when I say this, but a loss this time of year is not necessarily the worst thing to happen this time of a sports-year. Sometimes, it can re-focus a team and make them remember how unpleasant it is to lose a game. Northampton certainly had nothing to be down about in its effort against Whitehall. A sloppy and/or one-sided loss this time of year is a different story, but a hard fought 1-0 defeat might only be a bump in the road. I won’t be surprised if it’s a few more weeks before we see another “L.” FYI: I’ll be out with our “SportsTalk” camera quite a bit in the next week, taking in tennis, volleyball and baseball games for features on our upcoming programs.

Your comments on the league realignment possibilities are most welcome, and any schools who have made notable achievements this year, like both the Northampton and Whitehall softball teams, would be appreciated posts to make her on our site. Be sure to check out our May 9th “SportsTalk” program (live at 6pm) featuring great sports radio voices from the area: Alan Rabler, Dick Hammer & Tim Cain, who all have promised some great local sports stories to reveal. (A shout-out to Glen Remaly for the use of his digital camera work for this post.)

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