Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A few links--health care and Darren Ford robbed

First, here's an excerpt from an Op-Ed I wrote for USA Today:

If baseball and health care were thrust into a formal logic argument, it might look like this:

All those who are rich have health insurance. All professional baseball players are rich. Therefore, all professional players have health insurance.

The above argument might be valid, but it's not true. The majority of professional baseball players are minor leaguers, and we certainly aren't rich. More important, hundreds of players lost their insurance earlier this month.

Some will love me for this article; some will hate me. Hopefully it's worth a read.

Also, continuing on health care, here's an article a teammate emailed me about the head coach of SIU-Carbondale's baseball program. He's undergoing various cancer treatments. It serves two purposes. First, it is a warning to other players, as it shows what can happen when a person abuses smokeless tobacco for their entire life. I touched on players using tobacco waaay too much in a previous Baseball America mailbag. Second, it shows the difficulties that some people have in obtaining needed cancer treatments in today's health care system.

Lastly, one of my teammates was robbed recently!! Apparently Darren Ford, who was just added to the Giants' 40 man after a great season, was working at his offseason job at a Chevy dealership (ironic that Chevy even hired a guy with the last name of Ford). He drove to make a deposit and was robbed at gunpoint. D-Ford is a good dude. He's lightning fast and a great center-fielder. I'm trying to reach him to get his thoughts and make sure that everything is okay.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pizza and Fried Chicken: Minor league staples

"Tough to eat healthy when your post-game meal is fried chicken every night."

The quote is from one my teammates. We were recently talking about the difficulties of eating healthy in the minor leagues. We often have this discussion, but we had a specific prompt this time: Pictures of our personable teammate, Pablo "Kung Fu Panda" Sandoval, working out.

I first saw the pictures on Facebook. Pablo doing abs with a med ball. Pablo on a treadmill. Pablo grimacing on a leg press machine. Pablo chopping wood, running through snow, and doing pullups in a barn. (Wait, that's Rocky). Then came the story by the SF Chronicle regarding "Camp Panda." More of the same pictures, and details of Pablo running up mountains--Camelback specifically--in a single bound.

My anonymous teammate sent me the link to the Chronicle's article. We both agreed that we loved seeing Pablo work like this. He's an impact player. His energy is contagious, he loves the game, and he can flat out hit.

We delved further into the situation. Specifically, my teammate asked me a question: Why did they wait until he was an established star to worry about his weight? Why didn't they worry about it years ago, when he was already at 240 pounds but short of 270? Why don't they do more to help minor minor leaguers improve their diets? (Okay, that was more than one question.)

I tried giving an answer. They want to save money? They don't care about players until they reach the major leagues? They weren't good answers.

In my upcoming Baseball America story on salaries (yes it does exist--crossing fingers--should be out in 2 weeks), I touch on this subject, but I'd like to expound upon it here. It's not easy to eat healthy in the minor leagues. Often choices are limited. And often budgetary resources are limited.

There is a fairly easy solution to this problem. Most guys arrive to the field each day around 2 pm. They eat a snack. They eat a full meal around 5:30 after BP. They eat again after the game. This is over half of their daily caloric intake. It's probably close to two-thirds. Why not ensure that these calories are good calories?

A slight effort is made by most teams. Nutritionists give a 15 minute talk in spring training, and guidelines are given for clubbies. But these clubbies are operating on a budget. Players pay dues for the "spread," and an effort is made to keep these dues low. With little money to spend and rushed for time, the result is often quick, easy, and cheap food. The junk food brims with the normal trifecta--fat, sugar, and sodium.

I have to admit I like eating Doritos once in a while. And who doesn't like the occasional corndog? But these shouldn't be staples of pre-game meals. We're playing baseball, not watching a tractor pull at a state fair.

Post-game meals are often no better. Again operating on a short budget, fried chicken and Stouffer's lasagna prevail at the upper levels of the minors. In the lower levels, many teams don't even have post-game spreads to reduce the cost of dues. Instead, players are left to find food themselves. On the road, late-night options near the hotel are limited to McDonald's or trail mix from the local gas station. Some players simply order Domino's Pizza night after night.

Certain teams are beginning to take steps to remedy this. The RedSox, for instance, pay for meals after home games for their "A ball" players. The meals are fresher and more nutritious than the normal post-game meal. It cost them around $5 per player--around $150 per night. With 70 home games, it amounts to $10,500. It's not a small expense, but when these players are the future of your organization--not to mention that teams have spent a lot of money on their top picks--it would seem to be a good investment.

Along with a lack of options, the low meal money allotted players complicates matters. Per diem, provided when the team is on the road, has remains at $20. It hasn't increased since McDonald's introduced the Big Mac. (I actually can't verify that.) For a Double A player, over half of this goes to clubhouse dues. Around seven or eight dollars is left for both breakfast and lunch.

In a story I wrote last off-season, I talked about an effort made to raise per diem. General managers wanted to do it. It just needed a vote by owners. Commissioner Selig didn't even raise the issue at the winter meetings.

Minor leaguers recognize that our situation is better than many in the world. We have food while many go hungry. But we're trying to play at our fullest potential, and it's tough to do so when eating junk food.

Players aren't expecting to eat filet mignon every night. They don't want to gorge themselves on crab legs (too difficult and messy, but man they taste good). They just want to have a healthy meal once in a while. Right now that's a wish that's hard to fulfill.

We'll just keep eating fried chicken and pizza. A few of us will actually reach the big leagues. They'll care about us then.

Update: I've had mixed reports on whether or not the Giants give money for post-game meals in the form of reimbursements. Hopefully more teams begin using the method of the RedSox, where they just pay for decent meals! As of now, I've only heard of a few teams doing this. Hopefully the idea spreads.

I also don't want to come across as criticizing the clubhouse managers. Those guys work their butts off! They don't get the credit, or the pay, that they deserve.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Villalona: paying off a family?

I've been in enough seafood restaurants to know when something smells fishy. Tonight I just read something smelling so fishy I would've walked out of the restaurant's door and never looked back.

According to Andrew Baggarly's blog, which cites an AP report Angel Villalona is out of jail. Normally I'd be jumping for joy. A teammate who had been accused of something walked out of jail. I should be happy, right?

Well, I'm not jumping for joy. The judge has apparently accepted a request by the family of the victim to drop the charges. Baggarly states that according to rumor, Villalona "paid $150,000 to the family of the slain man."

I went to the website of Diario Libre, the main paper in the DR, to get more information. They're now reporting that instead of 5 million pesos, Villalona actually paid the family 2 million pesons. They cite the mother of the victim as the source, so it seems pretty solid.

So how much is a peso? Well, I did an online search for an exchange rate and it's around 36.68 pesos per dollar. So at 5 million pesos, the amount would've been $136,314. At 2 million pesos? Try $54,524.

I hate believing rumors, but if this is true, then Villalona just paid off a family for a little over $50,000.

Upon Villalona's arrest a month ago, I posted on this blog about it. Here's an excerpt:

Again, I hope that Villalona didn’t commit this murder, but if he did, justice needs to be served. The thought still reigns as almost incomprehensible, but I have to remember that my teammates don’t grow up in cushy little suburbs in the United States, playing 60 games a year for traveling Little League teams that extort $5,000 for the “opportunity” to play. Instead, they come from a still developing country with a high crime rate, where $5,000 represents more than half of the average household income.

Most of the things I stated in that paragraph remain true. I hope he didn't commit this murder. The guy was/is a teammate, and I got along with him more than well. Not only a huge kid but also a huge prospect, a tremendous amount of pressure had been placed on his broad shoulders. He went through times where he displayed a broad smile and he went through times where he was frustrated. I'd consider him a friend.

But I also believe that justice needs to be served. And how can justice be served if the family is paid off?

The prosecutor states that he wants to continue to pursue this case. Obviously I'm no expert in Dominican law, but without a judge behind him, I'm wondering if he'll be able to bring anything to trial.

I wanted to believe my teammate was innocent. I wanted something to come forward to exonerate him. I wanted to see him walk out of prison a free man. But not like this. This just smells like rotten sushi, and nobody likes rotten sushi.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Latest "Suitcase Chronicles:" An e-mailbag

Here's an excerpt from my latest "Suitcase Chronicles" entry on Baseball America:

But am I tired of pitching? No. Spontaneous thoughts still creep into my head like a snake in the night. Often it's the feeling of a perfect change-up: Feeling it roll off the finger tips at full arm speed, knowing the end-result upon release, seeing the hitter begin the swing too soon, watching the ball harmlessly pound the mitt. Will I ever be without these thoughts? Or will this phantom pitch syndrome haunt me forever?

It's part of a response to the question of whether I am tired of baseball. Since that might be too serious for some, I also answer the question of why baseball players spit so much, and why I am so atrocious at RBI Baseball. (Yes, I'm as horrible as a Britney Spears song.) Hope you enjoy.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Office Cleaning

There's crap piled everywhere in my office. Files here, papers there, a pile of CDs tossed in a corner, and books everywhere.

I decided to rummage through it today. I started making piles: junk, recycling, shredding, and to be filed. Slowly I made progress. A spot of wood appeared on the left corner of the desk, and soon even the dust seemed to be scattering.

Nearing the end, I opened up a blue folder. It was a folder that I always kept with me while traveling for baseball and in which I kept various receipts. I invaded it, finding receipts young and old, and tossed out the irrelevant material. At the back of the folder I found something: the stub from my first paycheck.

Slightly faded and with corners slightly worn, I inspected it. The name on the front, in characteristic fashion, had been misspelled. The "u" and "i" had been misplaced in what is always a common mistake. The address was my parents' address, as at that time I still used it as my permanent address.

Other than these things, it looked remarkably similar to my current pay stubs. The pay amount is less than the current checks, but just barely: $368.33. I looked at the dates displayed:
Hire date: 06/18/04
Period Start: 06/16/04
Period End: 06/30/04
Pay Date: 06/30/04

Five and a half years of my life have passed since I received this first paycheck. So many things have taken place. I entered the game a naive, idealistic young man fresh out of college. Now I'm married, older, and realism has entered my life. I'm not sure if I've changed for the better or worse, but I've definitely changed.

Okay, back to fall cleaning. Hopefully I'll find an uncashed check.