My goal is to add perspective to subjects other than the regular headlines.
Contact Stephanie at s.betweenthelines@yahoo.com



Friday, July 24, 2009

Mark Buehrle is PERFECT!

(Chicago Tribune front page, 7-24-09)

From a die-hard Cub fan who bleeds Cubbie Blue... Congratulations, Mark Buehrle! What a spectacular game! But it wasn't as easy as 27 up, 27 out. The whole team played incredible defense behind their Ace, especially DeWayne Wise robbing a homer from Kapler in the top of the ninth. You won't see a play like that again in that situation. If you didn't get goosebumps from that, you're not human. I don't care- Cub fan or Sox fan-give the man props! Mark Buehrle is as classy as they get, and I will always respect that man.

(Chicago Sun Times front cover 7-24-09)

I was at his first No Hitter on April 18th, 2007 with my friends Brad and Melissa, and that day is one I will never forget. How many people have the opportunity to witness a no-no in person? My dad hasn't even had that luxury, yet here I am with all these experiences already, and I'm only 22. I can only image what else I will see in my lifetime (Hopefully a Cubs World Series Championship- yes I continue to hold out!).That is why baseball is such a beautiful game. You can be around the game for decades and yet every time you go out to the ballpark there is the chance that something will happen that will surprise you. History is continually being made and I am appreciative that men like Buehrle are the ones making it today.
"It seems like any time
you come in the game late,
that ball always finds you.
When the ball was hit, I
told myself, 'You've got
to do whatever it takes
to catch this ball.' "
-DeWayne Wise
(Pictured: Chicago Sun Times back
page 7-24-09)




I was especially happy to see the entire Rays team stand and applaud Buehrle for his performance after the last out. Joe Maddon is the face of that classy organization, and he has taught his players well.

Honestly when all is said and done, it couldn't have happened to a better guy and against a better team. The Rays offense is as scary as it gets, and Buehrle worked with fierce competitiveness and determination to take them down one-by-one, all the way until the 27th out of a flawless masterpiece.

Congrats, Buehrle!
-S

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Re: HWB

As I mentioned in my previous post about the Hawaiian Winter Baseball League, I wrote an e-mail to Mr. Kurisu regarding the future plans for the HWB now that it's contract is expired with MLB. I also asked for more information about the HWB and it's staff, etc. I honestly did not anticipate a response, but I hoped for the best! Turns out, if you seek information you are more likely to find it than if you sit still and wonder. Mr. Kurisu not only wrote me back answering all of my questions, he also read the article I wrote and shared with me his personal involvement within the league.

The only way I can fully share his response is to copy the e-mail I received from Mr. Kurisu. I was overwhelmed to learned that the spirit of baseball in Hawaii is deeper than what I expected. I'm sharing this with all of you because I feel that his passion for baseball which is driven from his deep Hawaiian culture is obvious even in his written words. (If you haven't read the first post regarding the following e-mail, CLICK HERE.)

Stephanie:

Thank you very much for your interest in our Hawaii Winter Baseball League. In actuality, the Hawaii Winter Baseball (HWB) story is much, much more than my brother Duane (owner), me, our staff, participants, and fans. It is about the spirit of “Aloha” which is prevalent in our islands.

Our ancestors were immigrants who worked in the sugar cane / pineapple fields and processing plants in order to realize their dreams of better lives. They came from the Philippines , Portugal , Japan , Korea and China , many without skills or any understanding of the English language. The native Hawaiian population in those times lived in that “Aloha” spirit and welcomed their visitors with “opened arms.” “Aloha” is not only about welcoming, but, giving, sharing, accepting, caring, tolerating, gratitude, and most of all doing things “from the heart”.

Can you imagine how much more difficult life would have been for our ancestors had it not been for that spirit? Because each group had its own custom, and religion, the respect that they afforded one another was and still remains very important. Today, Hawaii is a “melting pot” of different ethnic groups, and a proud example of blends that are apparent in the foods, and clothing of its people.

In 1993, the financial investment in HWB by Duane produced a very unique opportunity for local baseball fans to experience a level of the game that was sorely missed with the departure of the Hawaii Islanders franchise. On the front cover of that initial years’ media guide, there is a drawing of a youngster sitting in the stands reaching out to catch a foul ball. In my mind, that fan actually represented a hope that by following the league slogan of “Catching the Dream” it could provide opportunities even beyond the game of baseball.

Throughout the history of HWB (1993 – 1997, 2006 – 2008), hundreds of our alumni had progressed to the highest level in MLB, NPB, and KBO. From Ichiro Suzuki, to Jason Giambi, to Todd Helton, Joba Chamberlain and many others, their Hawaiian experience also included lessons in cultural philosophies. Every single member of our teams knew upon their arrival, that they are a part of our extended family and we will never ever forget them even after their departure. I still remember taking Michael Barrett, Gabe Kapler, Russell Ortiz, Robert Fick, Aaron Fultz, and others visiting many area schools. Some players even went surfing, swam with sharks / dolphins, went deep sea fishing, harvested prawns from the mountain streams, and assisted in an ancient Hawaiian method of cooking pig for a luau (party) during their off days.

Major League scouts determine a player’s abilities by his tools, which are categorized in five areas. We believe that HWB has also offered and provided the sixth tool over the years, the Aloha spirit. For these young men, it is a lesson that prepared them in dealing with their personal sacrifices, frustrations, and pressures to succeed in their new careers.

Our 2008th season was the final year of our three-year agreement with MLB. During the past Winter Meetings, held in Las Vegas , the consensus of the voting by the General Managers was to start a similar league in Arizona . Although disappointed, we at HWB have remained optimistic that we will be able to provide baseball related support in various forms and with various entities in the near future. Thousands of local participants are engaged in the sport throughout the year, from the (5 – 6 year olds) to the collegiate levels.

Thank you again for promoting HWB. If you have interest in additional information, we will be more than willing to mail you copies of our media guides.

Hervy Kurisu

Immediately following this e-mail was a second from Mr. Kurisu told me about Michael Barrett's involvement. It read:

"By the way, Michael Barrett, as the class person that he is, came back to host a youth clinic in 2007. He assumed responsibility for his coaching staffs’ expenses and also provided a whole bunch of equipment and memorabilia to present to the camp participants. During his trip, he also visited an elementary school, located on Oahu’s North Shore."

I want to thank Mr. Kurisu, and the rest of the staff of the HWB for their help writing these articles, and hopefully passing along something of importance to others. I wish this league was still running because you all know where I would be this winter. Think about it, it'd be like having a second spring training! Except, in the winter we can get away from the cold Chicago weather and spend a week in Hawaii watching baseball. Tell me a better scenario. Seriously, I'd love to hear it. Being a baseball fan is a year round activity. The season starts in February at Spring Training and ends with the World Series in October. For 3 months between November until the end of January, we are left waiting for more baseball. Some teams even have Conventions and Fan Fests in January. But, imagine being a part of a winter league. Imagine that as soon as the season ended, the 29 teams that missed out on a World Series got to see their prospects play exhibition games in a beautiful setting like Hawaii. Baseball would never be over. A disappointing season would lead us to our future players and the teams for next year, instead of waiting until February and March to catch a glimpse. I am aware there are many other winter leagues, but none of which even come close to the experience created by Mr. Kurisu and staff in Hawaii.

Any promotion of this league, whether it be by word of mouth or visit to their web site, is a step in bringing it back. I'm guessing the last thing this league wants is to sell out to a commercial image of soley being in existence for the prospect of bringing in money for business. What I do believe is that others like me who appreciate the value of an honest ball game with true talent can see this league for what it was and what it could once again be.

Mr. Kurisu offered to send me any information I might want for myself or to share with others, so if there are others that are interested don't hesitate to contact me by e-mail (s.betweenthelines@yahoo.com). I guess my hope is that the more aware people become of this league the better off it has into coming back into existence.

The worst part about baseball today is the politics and business of it. I believe that this league promotes pure baseball. I hope someday I'll be able to take my family to Hawaii for winter break to see some good ball.

-S

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hawaiian Winter Baseball League

Recently I've been starting to think about what and where my next big feat will be which currently involves my plans for the winter. For some time now I have been dying to go to Hawaii, anywhere from a few months to a year. Anyways, I was on the phone with my friend Sean the other day talking about actually going there this winter and his first response was "But what about baseball?" We both knew the Hawaiian Winter League was out there, but I didn't know too much about it. What player's are involved, who is affiliated, when are the games, location, etc. So today, in a quest to find out the minor league status of Michael Barrett, I stumbled upon a link to the Hawaiian Winter Baseball League page. Turns out Barrett was actually involved with them at one time.

The Hawaiian Winter Baseball League (HWB) is affiliated with the Major Leagues, but very loosely. It was originated in 1993 and while it draws some players from the MLB, it mainly features those from the Korea Baseball Organization, Nippon Professional Baseball (the most elite Japanese league), as well as players from independent leagues. The games are based out of Honolulu on the island of Oahu and run from October through December. Compared to other leagues, the HWB is one that is lesser known today. Limited funding caused the league to be shut down from 1997 until 2006 when it finally resurged. They relied too much on the limited funding from the MLB and eventually crashed as a result. The HWB was the only league to feature highly touted American and Japanese talent, but their contract with Major League Baseball expired following the 2008 season. Apparently, they are trying to develop a second league in Arizona that won't rival the Arizona Fall League.


Looking back before 1993, I found that the creator of baseball, Alexander Cartwright, actually had a lot to do with starting baseball in Hawaii. After only three years of first devising many of his classic rules for the game, Cartwright moved to the Hawaiian Islands. Baseball caught on quickly within the islands, and on July 4th, 1866 the very first organized game was recorded in the record books with the "natives" beating the "haoles" (Caucasians) 2-1. Noticing the rapidly growing popularity for the sport, J. Ashman Beaven invested his entire fortune into the construction of the Honolulu Stadium in 1926. Upon it's completion was the commencement of the first international league featuring the Hawaiians, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos and the Caucasians. The league came alive in the 1940's as ten's of thousands of people would crowd the stands watching the professionals from the Majors compete against the elite from other countries. By the 1960's the much adored, big wooden stadium in Honolulu became home to the first ever Hawaiian professional traveling team, the Hawaii Islanders. In the 1970's the Islander's moved into a more modern stadium, the Aloha Stadium. During their existence, they played in the Pacific Coast League and won 4 division titles, and 2 PCL pennants over a period of 27 years. In 1988 the league ceased playing professional baseball until 1993 when the sport returned in the form of the Hawaiian Winter Baseball League and delighted the islands with top caliber prospects from 16 of the 28 teams in the MLB, as well as 3 Japanese teams and 4 Korean teams. Upon its resurgence in 1993, the new (and current) owner of the HWB, Duane Kurisu invested in his dream of making a climatic baseball experience for the fans and players. He focused on making the HWB a place where to most promising prospects could experience a league unlike any other to help them thrive as athletes while also enjoying the accommodations of the islands.

In 1993, Kurisu wrote in the league ye
arbook the following:
" Baseball is a game for dreamers.
where dreams can come true.
it's that game-winning homerun at the bottom of the ninth with two men out... it's that first time at bat as a professional ball player.. it's the hope that one day there will be a true professional international world series."

The Hawaiian baseball fans held such a high respect for the prospects who came in to play on the islands. They had the privilege of see
ing 130 of their prospects eventually make it to the Major Leagues. Even before the HWB, there were many great players who passed through the primitive leagues in Hawaii. Babe Ruth entered in 1933, and was quickly followed by Lou Gehrig and Jimmy Foxx. During World War II, Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese, Vernon Olson, and Schoolboy Rowe where among those on the rosters. From 1993-1997, Hawaiians saw players like Ichiro Suzuki (pictured below), before they made it in the Majors. There was a home run hit by Suzuki in the first series played at home against Hilo, which is still spoken of around the island as the "Shinkansen Homer." It was a 500+ foot blast that hit the roof of a building beyond the stadium and to this day is still the record for a home run hit at Kauai's Vidinha stadium. Jason Giambi, who was an prospect at the time with the Oakland Athletics, took advantage of the 315 foot left field wall and made a habit of crushing homers and delighting fans. Alex Ochoa was named the "best gun in the minor leagues" after he gunned down Shannon Penn at home with a 300-foot laser from the warning track. Many other players have come out of the HWB including AJ Pierzynski, Tadihito Iguchi, Todd Helton, Adam Kennedy, Mark Kotsay, Randy Wynn, and Michael Barrett.

The only other major sporting even in Hawaii, th
e Pro Bowl drew 50,000 people in 1993, while the HWB drew in 53,383 in its very first season. The first All-Star game for the islands featured a team composed of entirely USA players versus the rest of the international players, with the USA coming out on top. The second year of play in the HWB, attendance boosted to just under 70,000, and by 1996 attendance reach 112,000. In 1997, 93 prospects had gone on to play in the Major Leagues.

The league was the only international one in existence and both the fans and players were rewarded with the best possible baseball experience imaginable. Not only did they serve the traditional hot dogs and pop at the games, but international dishes like Terryaki chicken, sushi, and Portuguese bean soup were there to lend an extra international flavoring for the fan and players overall experience.

The league relied too heavily upon the small funding by the MLB and by the end of the 1997 they were not able to start another season until 2006 when the
MLB agreed to help fund the 4- team league until the end of the 2008 season. Even after 9 years of no baseball, 42,107 fans poured into the stadiums to watch their beloved sport. The 2006 HWB roster has had a big effect on the MLB which featured players like Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamerlain, Joe Thatcher, Nate Schierholtz and Rick Vanden Hurk on their rosters. Other players that have come from the HWB and into the MLB include Derrek Lee, Craig Counsell, Aaron Boone, Bill Mueller, Ramon Ortiz, Kaz Matsui, Kenji Jojhima, Preston Wilson, So Taguchi, Dexter Fowler, Nyger Morgan, and many more.

Proceeding this blog, I e-mailed the owner of the HWB regarding future plans for the league and further information. I am still extremely interested in going to Hawaii this winter if not for baseball than to meet the individuals responsible for creating this amazing league. As soon as I read about the HWB it was as if I had found a league as passionate about baseball as I am. If nothing else, meeting the fans in Hawaii could provide for an experience unlike any other. I remember when I met the Korean fans at the World Baseball Classic this year, and their fan mentality and passion is something that opened up my eyes to an entirely new experience of baseball. Based on my first finding of the HWB it seems to be a league built on enjoyment and experience rather than that of a business, like the MLB. Here the owners are as passionate about the game as the biggest fans in America and I hope the more I learn about the league the more I learn about baseball. If you have any insight or knowledge of the HWB please e-mail me directly at s.betweenthelines@yahoo.com. Thanks for reading and I hope this article was of interest!

-S

Source disclaimer: The images and information gathered for this article was made available to me by the HWB website, www.hawaiiwinterbaseball.com, and the information provided by the staff of the Hawaiian Winter Baseball League.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

2009 Home Run Derby

The half way point of the 2009 season is marked in beautiful St. Louis, Missouri this year as the All Star festivities kicked off last night with the State Farm sponsored Home Run Derby. I was lucky enough to be there in attendance to see Milwaukee Brewers', Prince Fielder, not only put on a show, but win the Derby in support of the National League. The new Busch Stadium was a picture perfect setting, and with the sun setting and warm air, the buzz of the crowd was more than eccentric, it was fanatic! Major League Baseball and the St Louis Cardinals really put a lot of hard work into making all of St. Louis fan friendly and an enjoyable atmosphere. This was my very first Home Run Derby that I have been in attendance for, and it was so much fun that I'm making it a point to go every year no matter where it is. It's a great way to see more stadiums while also watching a collaboration of the best hitters in the game compete in such a lively atmosphere.

Despite the beauty of the Stadium and the outside of park which was set up for fan fest activities, it was Albert Pujols who had the crowd entranced inside the ballpark. Unfortunately for STL fans though, the hometown hero did not pass the second round. Things did get interesting once a "Swing-Off" was announce for the 3 hitters tied for forth place after the commencement of the first round. If you watched the derby you may have caught a slight error by Major League Baseball, or maybe it was just a little confusion. In the "Swing-off" to determine the hitter to move onto the second round, Joe Mauer, Tony Pena, and Pujols were all to have "5 swings," as you can see in the picture below clearly stating "swings" versus saying "outs." Pena was first to hit, and didn't end until he had his 5 outs which also came with 1 home run. Is that not 6 swings? The announcer kept repeating that each hitter would get "5 swings, and 5 swings only." Mauer came up to bat next, got his 5 outs and was eliminated. Then Pujols came up essentially hitting 2 homers to automatically advance to the next round. Not sure if Major League Baseball will correct this in the future, but according to their rules, it was 5 swings, not 5 outs. And, one a good note, this was the only real mistake of the night, so congratulations MLB for the great work!


For anyone not aware, the premise of the Home Run Derby is to take the 8 best (and willing) home run hitting Major Leaguers to compete for the title of Home Run Derby Champion. Each hitter picks a batting practice pitcher to throw to him. Some guys choose their high school coach, or a former college coach, etc. Either way, the person they chose is a huge part of their success in winning the competition. Each player is then allowed 10 outs and the top 4 out of the 8 advance to the second round. Anything the player swings at that is not a home run is considered an out. Once the player gets to the second round they hold on their total from the first round and add onto it, while also being given 10 more outs hit more home runs. That way if a guy hits 26 homers in the first round, they transfer over to the second round. The only time they start from scratch is the final round, were the top 2 revert back to zero and are each given ten more outs to win the derby.

Now keep in mind, while the players are hitting home runs, the distance of each one is displayed for the crowd to see, which just adds to the overall excitement for the fans as they emphasize their oohs and aahhhs as the drama unfolds. If I were to change one thing about the derby, it would be to eliminate the "Swing-off." I saw this as an unfair disadvantage to the 3 who were tied, who then had to have a mini round in between the first and second rounds. The derby as a whole is a tiring experience, especially going into the second round, and to have these guys up there taking extra hacks seemed unfair as the winner then advanced to the second round with less energy than his competitors (and leading off the next round, might I add). I think that instead of the "Swing-off" they should determine the winner by the distance the homers traveled. That way the guys who hit bombs and really put on the show for the crowd with the excess power advances to the second round. I mean, I have no problem with the way it is now under Bud Selig's rules, but there is always something you can do to improve it and I think this would be a decent idea to try.

With or without any rule changes, the clear winner last night was Prince Fielder who put on a spectacular presentation of raw power with an intense competitive edge that seemed to fuel the crowd to a tremor of cheers louder than that of the sheers for the hometown hero, King Albert. I am in no way a Brewers fan, in fact they are one of the top teams that I despise, but Prince Fielder is a tremendous ball player and I will never be biased against a purely talented baseball player. After the first round he hit a homer that led in distance at 497ft. Then in the semifinals he out-hit himself by jacking one to right-center at a distance of 503 feet. Even with an obvious loss of fans in the stadium, the crowd was the loudest of the night at that point (many people seemed to leave after Pujols was eliminated in the second round).

I have never supported the comments that Prince has made about his father, no matter what he has done to deserve them, and I will never cheer for the Brewers. But, last night the world got to see a man with true talent persevere past the top power hitting competitors in the Major Leagues. I will always acknowledge talent and no matter who the person is or how they act, once they get on that diamond I appreciate the talent the bring to the field, and the talent they are adding to the history of baseball. The steps they are paving for future talent to take over the game once they are in the long gone and in the record books was made last night, and is continuing to be made as these guys continue to compete at the highest level of athleticism. It's an honor to watch these talented men turn our chapter in the history books into something of pride and respect. With all the steroid talk, its reassuring to know that we still have raw power. We still have our beautiful past time to lean back on and celebrate.
Congrats, Prince!
-S