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



Monday, April 18, 2011

An Intro to Perry Hill

Web gems - they are easily one of the most exciting parts of the game. The footwork, quick hands, and finesse it requires to be a middle infielder 'turning two' may be the most poetic and graceful movement in a game of baseball. And whenever you start to think about how easy they make it look, remember the great Teddy Williams when he said, "Ballplayers are not born great. They're not born great hitters or pitchers or managers, and luck isn't the big factor. No one has come up with a substitute for hard work. I've never met a great player who didn't have to work harder at learning to play ball than anything else he ever did." Now, remember to yourself that these players put in endless hours of repetitive drills in order to make it look "that easy." Each ballplayer, no matter his background or where he use to play, has done the same drills - the same footwork, glove-hand transfers, and charges to the ball for decades. For the elite, which every major leaguer is, did more work than his fellow peers in high school, summer ball, and college and that is why he is in the Majors today. That... and he survived the Minor Leagues.

The amount of work that goes on behind the scenes, you can't even imagine. I still can't believe how much I learn on a daily basis about the wear and tear of the practice put in before a game. No matter how die hard you think you are... you haven't seen anything until you have seen the Florida Marlins defensive genius, Perry Hill in action who I learned about at Spring Training this year. I read an article in USA Today's Sports Weekly (March 23-29) written by Paul White entitled, "Years of glove and devotion pay off." What I learned about was someone worth the time of the most die hard baseball fans out there... and then I started my research. I spent an entire afternoon looking up every stat or article ever written about Perry. I watch video after video of defensive plays by his highest regarded pupils, too.


Perry Hill's current, official title with the Florida Marlins is first base coach, but what he teaches and instills throughout Spring Training and the grind of the regular season is something that players around the majors appreciate and respect. Luis Castillo, a 6 time gold glove winner, accredits all of his success to his former coach, Hill. In fact, Castillo even sent Hill the first ever gold glove that he earned in 2003. And, it doesn't stop there - ask Castillo about Hill today- he still pays him full credit - "I've spent a long time in the big leagues. It wouldn't have happened without him," he told White in the USA Today article. Derrek Lee, Orlando Cabrera, and Mike Lowell are other Hill disciples who have also sent their teacher their respects - in the form the mitts they used in their gold glove years, including Lee's which is personalized.


Hill never played a day in the major leagues, but did hold a brief minor league career. Nevertheless, his reputation as a defensive guru proceeds him. He's in his 17th season as a major league coach, of his 26 years spent in pro ball. In 1997 he was hired by the Detroit Tigers, the worst fielding team in the majors, and within the year he transformed them into the team with the best fielding percentage among the majors. Before a brief three year retirement in 2006 he also was employed by the Montreal Expo's where he was introduced to Castillo. But, baseball could never get away from Hill. He was coaxed back by the Pirates in 2009, where he continued his tradition of making his team lead in fielding percentage (.988) with the fewest errors (73) among all teams. He also set a club record for most errorless games played in one season (101). After an agreement on an extension could not be met, he rejoined the Marlins this year. When asked about his view of importance on defense, Hill said, "It's one of three vital parts of the game. Defense affects the whole game. If you don't make a play, your starting pitcher might have to throw 10, 15 more pitches to get out of an inning. Now, he's going to have to come out of the game in the seventh when he could have gone another inning. So you use your bullpen more. And then your bullpen is tired the next day, and maybe you don't win the game because of it." Although it seems like common sense, we seem to forget about those behind the scenes people who's job it is to enforce this.
"A lot of people know how to teach the game. Few know how to teach the game well. In two days, [Perry Hill] made me focus on small but very important things. He's the master at teaching the absolute fundamentals of baseball," Greg Dobbs, 7 year MLB veteran and current Florida Marlins infielder.
The accolades for Perry Hill go on and on. If I were to include every quote about him that I found online and in articles, you would stop reading because you'd probably yell "I get it already!!!" And while all those quotes would just solidify your respect for the man, I'd rather encourage you to do the work yourself. The next time the Marlins come to your city, go to the game and make sure you get there when the gates open for batting practice. You'll see Hill hitting grounders to infielders, side coaching players and always with a smile on his face while he don's his #7 jersey - because Hill loves baseball. He loves baseball as much as any fan or player and he treats the game with respect while passing on his knowledge to his players. Castillo calls Hill, "..a smart man; the most positive person and the best infield coach" he's ever worked with. He's consistent, whether be in the clubhouse or on the field. His players even wear t-shirts under their jerseys that say, "27 Outs, No More" showing their belief in Hill's sounding moto of defensive consciousness.


Always remember the people behind the scenes who help make the athletes into stars. The construction of a good Major League team starts with the coaches/front office and ends with the players on the field. Good coaching divides the elite from the rest. Hill has also has a DVD entitled "Ultimate Infield", an instructional video on the fundamentals of fielding for anyone interested in honing their coaching skills or who knows a player who could use it.

Also, if anyone knows how I can get one of those "27 Outs, No More" t-shirts, let me know and I'll trade you some cubs and sox tickets :)
"27 Outs, No More"
The Baseball Life,
- Stephanie


Other Marlins news: New ballpark naming rights should be announced soon.

Monday, April 11, 2011

2011 Baseball Book List

At some point in our lives, we have all been touched by a phrase or quote, that somehow relates to our own lives. Where it be a verse from a song, a quote by a legend, or the words of our mothers and fathers - it's words that help define our lives. Spoken, written, or in our minds they can serve as motivators or leave a legacy to be passed along.

As fans, we are very fortunate that baseball has been documented over the years and continues in sharing differing view points of the game. Authors such as Fay Vincent, George Castle, Sam Walker, George F. Will, Jonah Keri, and Roger Kahn have left a legacy with us in their many informative and entertaining novels. These books, with all the knowledge they hold, will be around forever and with that, the authors have made their personal portrayal of baseball something we can always use as resource to broaden our own love of the game.

The best part? There are books for every type of baseball fan. Whether you've been to hundred of games or just a few, Zack Hample's Watching Baseball Smarter can intensify your personal connection to the game. Do you view baseball as a religion or even have some great obsticles in your way? Then Josh Hamilton's autobiography, Beyond Belief will suit you just right. Fantasy Baseball fanatic? Check out Sam Walker's Fantasyland dubbed "Brilliantly funny!" by the Washington Post. I've been reading baseball books for as long as I can remember, and in that 24 year time span I can honestly say that the words in those books have insprired me in life, work, and even love. Tommy Lasorda's, I Live for This, changed my life - I finally found the words to describe my own love for baseball after hearing his.

The list below is my summer reading list of books I have been recommended to read or stumbled upon on my own. Last summer I read the books mentioned above and about 12-15 others (some can be found on the right panel of this blog with links to purchase them on amazon.com.)


Book #1: The Extra 2%, by Jonah Keri (forward by Mark Cuban). Subtitle: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First --- Details the Tampa Bay Rays. My interest in this book comes from it's comparable financial aspect of Moneyball, one of my all time favorites. It delves deeper than the surface of assembling a team to the actual figures, strategies, and intense study used to take a low market team to compete against the best of the AL East (Yankees and Red Sox).
      Review: "Jonah Keri has given us a fascinating look at how the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays became winners. The Extra 2% is a captivating book if you love baseball, but it's an even more captivating book if you love success" -Joe Posnanski, senior writer, Sports Illustrated.

Book #2: Men at Work, by George F. Will. Subtitle: The Craft of Baseball --- A #1 New York Times Bestseller. This book was recommended to me by a friend who works for the Chicago White Sox noting it is one for the most passionate, die hard fans of baseball.
      Review: "George knows baseball. No kidding... Men at Work turns out to be a delightful look at all the little things that make major league baseball a subtle spectacle," -Seattle Times
        Review: "A classic... the best baseball book of the '90s" - Chicago Tribune

Book #3: Fantasyland, by Sam Waker. Subtitle: A Sportswriter's Obsessive Bid to Win the World's Most Ruthless Fantasy Baseball League. I originally read this book in 2008, during one of the greatest baseball seasons of my life. I connected with the book through it's hilarious, yet charismatic view of the world of fantasy sports - and how to be the best! Not going to lie though, the only reason I read it in the first place was because the author very first chapter is about Jacque Jones, one of my all time favorite players.
      Review: "Entertaining... One of the book's strengths is that Mr. Walker not only finds the humor in this world of the obsessed, he also finds the drama... Mr. Walker's prose is entertaining and informative... and often very sweet" - New York Times

Book #4: It's What's Inside the Lines That Counts, by Fay Vincent. Subtitle: Baseball Stars of the 1970s and 1980s Talk About the Game They Loved. First of, it's a book of first person narratives put together by a former MLB commisioner, so you know it's going to be packed with good stories. Second, my favorite books are the ones that chronicle early players of the game. Since I was not around when these legends played, the next best thing is to hear their personal viewpoints of the game, teammates, fans and traveling the country playing baseball. Fay also wrote a book called "We Would Have Played for Nothing" which is also a peronal favorite.

Book #5: When the Game Changed, by George Castle. Subtitle: An Oral History of Baseball's True Golden Age: 1969-1979.  This is another book similar to #4, in that it chronicles an era of baseball I was not priveleged enough to have lived in. George Castle is such a talented writer and basebal historian who always brings the game alive through his words.

Book #6: Benchclearing, by Spike Vrusho. Subtitle: Baseball's Greatest Fights and Riots. A huge aspect of baseball, although also entertaining at times, is the violent clash between opposing teams when someone crosses the line or gets too cocky. The gray areas of baseball make the strategy of baseball more intense and adds a human element to it. I randomly opened he book and the first name I saw was Rob Dibble, so I bought it.

Book #7: Veeck as in Wreck, by Bill Veeck (with Ed Linn). Forward by Bob Verdi. What needs to be said about an autobiography of one of the most involved baseball men ever? I've heard his son motivationally speak a few times now and between his talks and his fathers writing, I've never laughed more in my life while still feeling inspired and enlightened. Must read for baseball fans.

Book #8: The Head Game, by Roger Kahn. Subtitle: Baseball Seen From the Pitcher's Mound. Roger Kahn is one of the greatest baseball writers out there and this book looks to be up to par. The psychological aspect of pitching along with the battle involved on a daily basis is the emphasis of the book. It seems comparable to #10 on this list, Ron Darling's, The Complete Game (another of my favorites).

Book #9: High Heat, by Tim Wendel. Subtitle: The Secret History of the Fastball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time. Another pitch-themed book to add to the list. The author compares legends like Koufax and Nolan to current flame throwers by using physics, biology, mechanics, and psychology.

Book #10: The Complete Game, by Ron Darling. Subtitle: Reflections on Baseball and the Art of Pitching. The best way to describe this book is to quote a review by the New York Times that stated it is "A pitcher's answer to Ted Williams's classic, The Science of Hitting." I am currently half way through this book and I feel like I am pitching for the New York Mets. Darling takes you pitch by pitch into specific innings from his career. He tells you his mind set, his mistakes, his patterns and science of not just throwing- but pitching a baseball. If you love baseball, you need to read this book.

Book #11: The Game From Where I Stand, by Doug Glanville. Subtitle: From Batting Practice to the Clubhouse to the Best Breakfast on the Road, an Inside View of a Ballplayer's Life. I'm adding this book to the list because it's a first person narrative from a former, likeable, ballplayer. Once again, the human side of baseball is the focus. It takes you out of your shoes and into centerfield of the best ballparks in America. I can't wait to read this one and since Doug lives in Chicago he has book signings often where you can talk to him in depth about the book and his life in the majors.

Book #12: Sandy Koufax, by Jane Leavy. Subtitle: A Lefty's Legacy. I read Leavy's Mickey Mantle biography this past winter and it was phenomenal. She goes so indepth with her research that you feel you actually know the subject like he's family. And while she doesn't just paint a pretty picture, her interviews and first person experiences tie in so neatly you'd think she was best friends with her characters. Granted this book came before the Mantle one, I have yet to read it but will do so this summer.

Book #13: Shane Victorino, by Alan Maimon. Subtitle: The Flyin' Hawaiian. He's a hard worked, a passionate player, and one of the few Hawaiian players in the game. Maimon tells the story of of the most humble, fan friendly ballplayers in the game. I'm a big Victorino fan and I am very interested in his charitable endeavors, so this book was a definite yes for my list. It's always refreshing to read the journey of a ballplayer who did it the right way, struggle with obstacles, yet still came through it with a good attitude and hard working attitude.

Book #14: The Life You Imagine, by Derek Jeter (with Jack Curry). Subtitle: Life Lessons for Achieving Your Dreams. The classiest, most professional and idolized short stop in the game. This book can reach anyone, on any level. It's dramatic tie in's with real life and enough to make you inspired to acheive the highest of goals. Jeter's book passes on his life lessons to challenge yourself while doing so with class and respect those around you. Th perfect way to end a season of baseball.. try reading this one around September before the playoffs and it's impact will be even more significant.

Thanks for all the suggestions for the book list to all my readers. I appreciate all the emails and insight you guys share with me and couldn't write without you guys. Any other suggestions, don't hesitate to send them in. It's an easy way to "pay it forward" to other baseball fans :)

The Baseball Life,

-Stephanie