April | 2010 | The Golden Sombrero Baseball Blog | MLB, Fantasy, College & High School Baseball News

Articles from April 2010

Golden Sombrero Nation

April 27, 2010


So this blog has existed for around a month now.  We have almost 30 pieces written by six different bloggers from various corners of this country and London.  I personally view the blog as quite the successful project even though it is only in its infancy.  Arlo(Mike), the mastermind of the operation, has done an exceptional job creating the layout and design of the blog, and I personally think it is a real joy to read.  Most of all, however, the blog represents to me a way that I can express my ideas on the game to my friends as well as a way that they can convey their thoughts on the game to me.  Since we can’t physically be in the same place all that often…I did get to see Towel(Justin) last weekend and will see Griff this coming one…this is a pretty awesome way to maintain the conversations that were started years ago in the dugout or around a television or on a bus.  Griff and I have been having this same conversation for almost 20 years now.  His new project on Ricketts truly hits me in the heart because everything he says about that yard is the way I and every other San Juan County player feels.

I love talking about baseball.  Every single day at school I talk baseball with people who neither are interested in nor truly competent of the game.  I still ramble off information during lectures to my neighbors that they likely deem distracting, disruptive, and useless.  All the while, up until a month ago, I was thinking to myself, “It sure would be nice to have a medium that would allow me to communicate my thoughts on the game with someone who may actually be interested.”  Who better than my old homies?  This blog allows me to talk the game with people I love who I know want to hear what I am thinking.  Thanks, dudes.  I love reading all your stuff too.  It was a very pleasant surprise to see Rickathee’s(Rick) name on a post, and we are all really glad you are onboard.  I think your upcoming pieces should be really fun.  The first one sure was.

So, let’s expand.  My guess is that most of the folks reading this blog are our old buddies.  If you are reading this, write something down.  Put your name on it.  Send it to Arlo.  Let’s get this conversation bigger and better.  I can think of a handful of dudes right now who have tons of cool and creative ideas on the game.  Let’s hear them.  Bloggers, let’s have another great month.

Ricketts Park: A True Diamond in the Rough (Part I)

April 25, 2010


My first full season as a high school baseball coach has finally come to an end.  For the grand finale, we were able to hook the C-teamers up with a dream come true…playing at Ricketts Park.  They got the whole deal, including pre-game batting practice on the field.  Watching the grins roll across those 8th and 9th graders faces reminded me just how special Ricketts is.  I couldn’t help but smile too, seeing as how this was my first time coaching on Ricketts as a Scorpion.  It is that unforgettable feeling, that you can only get when you play baseball on Ricketts, which is acting as the inspiration for this piece.
Growing up in Farmington, New Mexico has allowed me to enjoy one of the greatest treasures that baseball has to offer, Ricketts Park.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Farmington, or Ricketts, let me tell you about this ball field.  It is a spectacular yard.  Its dimensions are 330’ down the lines, 370’ to the gaps, and 400’ to dead center.  The wall is approximately 20’ tall, give or take a few feet.  The outfield walls are covered with two rows of signs advertising for local businesses.  Surrounding this field is a stadium setting, similar to a spring training or minor league yard.  The seats extend from behind home plate, down the lines, but not all the way out to the fence.  Seating is arranged in two tiers.  The lower tier has actual stadium seating, while the upper tier is comprised of bleacher seats.  The stadium holds over 6,100 people at full capacity.  If you would like to see larger pictures of this high-desert oasis, please click on each individual photo:


Ricketts Park holds a special place in a local baseball player’s heart.  As a young child, it is where you can go with your family to watch big kid baseball.  As you age, and enter high school, it becomes your goal to make the varsity squad and play and practice on the field daily.  At age 16, you have your first chance to play in the Connie Mack summer league whose games are played on Ricketts.  And if you win that summer league, you are invited to partake in one of the greatest amateur baseball tournaments this world has to offer…The Connie Mack World Series.  Teams from all corners of the nation come together in Farmington, for one week, and play on Ricketts in front of a packed house until a champion is decided.  It is one of the greatest weeks of the year for me, as well my fellow blogger, Dee.  See, Ricketts means something special to baseball players in Farmington, New Mexico.  Every age group sees something special about the place.  It is a diamond in the rough.  It is THE landmark of the entire city.  Ricketts Park is baseball.

This is simply an introduction.  It is the first in a series of pieces on Ricketts Park, and what it means to a kid who grew up playing baseball in little, old, podunk Farmington, New Mexico.  I feel truly blessed to have this baseball field in my hometown.  Hopefully, piece-by-piece, I will allow you to experience the joys of baseball at Ricketts vicariously.  Hopefully.  One.

Thank You, Baseball: An Epiphany

April 22, 2010

Late one evening, my assistant coach-for both my high school C-Team and my summer league Connie Mack team-his girlfriend, my girlfriend and I were entertaining ourselves with some rather deep conversation about teaching techniques.  By around 12:15 a.m. an epiphany had found its way through to my brain.  We all began discussing different success stories of education, via public high school, baseball coaching, or as a full-time educator in a youth detention center-better known as juvie.  I am a first-time, 9th grade English teacher, 3rd year baseball coach (first time high school), that coaches the Farmington High School C-team in the baseball program.  Jeff Rogers, the aforementioned assistant (the coaching variety, not upper echelon society) is a rookie in the coaching department and has a ton of new insight due to virgin eyes, so to speak.  My girlfriend, Jenna, is an educator inside the Farmington Youth Detention Center and has insight into teaching from a point of view that deals with some of the most unfortunate minds that America has to offer.  To be short, we are a group of educators that cover the gamut of educational opportunities.  During this conversation I found that every story had a common denominator; they all dealt in small group scenarios, where the learners felt that they were learning something that was uniquely new to their group and not to any other group of the population.  They felt that they were the new holders of knowledge.  Specialized learning is common place, even to the first year teacher.  How does that carry over to baseball?

By creating an environment that feels specialized (read as personal) the learning experience holds deeper within the young mind.  Thus, the educator must create small group areas in order to promote proper learning.  I have personally seen the production of teaching multiple techniques/practices, to particular groups of 3-4 players/practice and have found the turnouts to be just short of extraordinary.  For instance, with my six 8th graders ,I have two who are above the rest.  I am able to group them with a couple of the lowest freshmen, and teach one principle for a round of BP.  For another group of my most superior players, I am able to teach a much more sophisticated approach to what hitting is and means.  There are about 2 more distinct groups of players, such as speed guys and pitchers, that I end up being able to talk about my true passion in 4 different ways each and every practice; five ways if you count the average kids in the middle, right on track.  This is simply amazing.

I now have, maybe, the truest experience of baseball one could imagine.  I am able to focus the majority of my skills and prior practiced/played experiences on my one true passion in life (except for my previously mention girlfriend Jenna.  She’ll never be #2); baseball.  The pleasure brought forth, through realization of this, has made my most recent 45 minutes post-enlightenment, pure bliss.  I feel like I am living a dream, fuck the cliché.  It is this joyous, slightly extravagant, excitement that makes me thank baseball for my life.  It has lead me down a road that I am forever thankful for finding.  Baseball has taken all over the place.  New Mexico. Arizona.  California.  Colorado.  Wyoming.  New York.  Omaha, Nebraska.  Texas.  Missouri.  Simply put, it’s provided me with the chance to experience an eclectic environment and way of life (especially baseball life) that is unique.

It is unique in the same way that the teaching is unique.  From the immaculate artist, locked away, to the 8th grader who has never had proper coaching, to the kid who asks to ignore The Odyssey for a day, and find out how to eliminate the national debt.  Sure they are once in a blue moon, both the class discussion with freshmen and truly gifted baseball players, but that is the beauty of it.  It provides multiple opportunities to discuss some personal interests.  A personal investment is the most efficient fuel towards true education.  I feel lucky to have had baseball in my life.  Thank you baseball.  Thank you for leading me to where I have landed.  I am the happiest man I could be.  And all along the way, you have helped me discover a better way of educating.  Two passions for the price of one.  (Hey, I had to bring it all around full circle somehow.)  One.

Thinking at the Plate

April 22, 2010

A lot of coaches, fans, parents, friends, and critics talk about the elimination of thinking during at-bats. In some respects I have no room to argue. Thoughts, typically those deviating from the task at hand, are simply distractions and ultimately lead to inefficiencies likely resulting in a slow bat. However, I have found through playing, coaching, and fan-ing that certain types of players simply cannot shut down their thoughts. Ever. When these players are slumping, it is common to hear critics suggesting that these players are “thinking too much.” That very sentence demonstrates an unreasonable and useless analysis and critique of the given player because the suggestion is impossible to carry out. Even the most dimwitted player is at least awake and is therefore thinking on some level at the plate.  While I cannot argue that baseball has its fair share of morons, it has its share of geniuses too. It has its compulsives as well.

So what do you tell a young player who is clearly not allowing himself to function because he is too caught up in the ticks and routines that he has developed over time? What do you tell the player that is concerned with his statistics, or his role, or anything other than the ball and the release point?

I have been lucky to coach a player that I feel has a lot of the same concerns that i did as a player, and it has led me to some conclusions about managing a cerebral player of that fashion. First and very foremost, it is imperative to understand that players of this type cannot and will never stop thinking. The suggestion to do so is both insensitive and illogical and represents a respect-less and erroneous opinion of the game and the player. I have had success with this player by suggesting to control thoughts and aim them in different directions. By taking the reverse route and suggesting to think equally as much if not more, the player does not begin by addressing a negative but instead by embracing and utilizing a positive. The advantage that intelligence has over stupidity is that it provides awareness. A player capable of understanding simple logical schemes like release point variations and scouting charts can provide the cerebral player with key advantages.

For example, by focusing thoughts on a pitcher’s release point, players well-versed in critical analysis are capable of noticing deviations from normal patterns and may stand a better chance of recognizing off-speed stuff. The same applies to running bases. Even bench players can pick signs and find creative ways to deliver them to teammates such that the other team may never catch on. One weekend at Grinnell we had another team’s signs from the fourth pitch until the last one of the series. When we met the following season, we had them from the first one until the last.

Intelligent players may understand that emotions tend to be controllable on some levels, and that player may have noticed that he tends to perform better in certain emotional states. His ability to recreate this emotional state may be the highest level of of thinking we have as athletes because it essentially allows us to begin controlling our nervous system and hormonal output. Through the use of certain stimulus such as music, movies, movements, dietary patterns, or conversations, players possess the ability to arrive at their own favorite emotional state for a game. Intelligent and aware players understand more how to control these patterns.

Never before have we had such extensive and readily available research regarding the game and how best to play it. Moneyball had a monumental effect on the style of play I exercised on the field. The game has come a long way since then too. Nowadays players have access to so much literature that can help them develop. The interested and intelligent ones have at their disposal countless theories to utilize, but very few actually will explore these mediums. The intelligent ones have quite the leg up in this regard.

I’m not trying to say that dummies don’t have their place in the game. My point is simply that intelligence is by no means a disadvantage. It is traditional for the field to be a place of inclusion, and because it is more acceptable for smart individuals to dumb down than it is for stupid folks to “smart up” the game between the lines has traditionally been dumbed down. That is why it took a century to discover that a proficiency for avoiding outs would inevitably lead to runs. Intelligent players must embrace their talents instead of hiding them. By focusing thoughts in useful and advantageous directions, smart players are exercising a unique skill arguably as valuable as any other of the five traditional tools.

FHS/PVHS Round 1

April 22, 2010


If you are unfamiliar with Four Corners or New Mexican high school baseball, this post will probably be meaningless to you.  However, if you are familiar with baseball in this area, then you know that this year is a very unique one for baseball in San Juan County.  Both Farmington High School and Piedra Vista High School have new management for the first time in over a decade.  Gurus Don Lorett and Dick Laughlin retired from their respective managerial positions after the 2009 season.  That was the first season since PV opened ten years earlier that they finished higher in the state tournament than FHS, and they were able to do it while graduating just five seniors, only 3 of which started.  Since PV opened, FHS has won 6 AAAA state titles including a 4-peat from 2005-2008.  Along with Eldorado, and Carlsbad, FHS has been the school with the deepest tradition in the state, winning titles in every decade since the 1960’s.  Thrice since PV opened have they fallen to FHS in the state championship.  It is the deepest rivalry in the state and never before has it seemed as though FHS was the underdog.

The new managers at FHS and PV respectively are Sean Trotter, Lorett’s assistant of 13 years, and Mike McGaha, FHS’s hitting coach since 2004.  When McGaha crossed town, he brought with him FHS’s strength and conditioning coach as well as the head JV coach, who handles PV’s stunning pitching staff.  Adding to the suspense of the rivalry is the fact that many of the top players from both schools play for the same club organization with management that has represented both schools.

At the top of the PV rotation sits UNM-signee, Jake McCaslandMcCasland boasts a fastball that has registered as high as 96 mph as well as three average off-speed pitches.  Following McCasland is everyday SS, Tim Bailey, who sits in the 86-88 mph range and who can reach back for 89 mph when he needs it.  Tim’s changeup and curveball can be above average, and he tends to get the ball on the ground well.  Following Bailey is junior, Dominic Moreno, who works in the 84-86 range from a low ¾ slot.  His fastball has excellent arm-side action, but his breaking stuff tends to be on one plane despite having above average tilt.  His changeup is better and also has good arm-side fade and some sink.  These three guys make up the deepest pitching staff either Farmington school has had since 2002, and the 4 and 5 are not bad either.  Senior, Chandler Joe, leads Farmington’s staff.  Joe works in the low to mid-80’s with an excellent changeup that plays his FB velocity up a tad.  Following him is utility player and UNM-bound, Eli Freese, who works in the mid to high-80s from a very low ¾ slot.  When Freese is in the strike zone, he dominates right-handed opponents because his fastball rides in very hard.  His secondary stuff (slider, curve, change, and splitter) can be equally devastating, but have occasionally been tough for Freese to get in the zone.

With a knee injury to FHS SS, Chris Weaver, PV’s lineup from the top down is head and shoulders above Farmington’s with the exceptions of 3B, Joe Cervantes, and Freese.  With a month left in the season, McCasland has already broken the school’s single-season HR record that was formerly held by Air Force-signee, Kyle Henke, in 2008.  Not to take anything away from Jake, but there are at least three players in the PV lineup equally skilled at the plate.  On paper, FHS is overmatched against PV in every way this season, but the same was true last year, and FHS was still able to wrap up their ninth consecutive District 1-4A title.  The FHS tradition of excellence is tough to overcome.

Well, PV had a very easy time overcoming it this time around. In front of a couple thousand fans they put up 4 runs in the first, and McCasland proceeded to toss a 1-hitter to lock up round 1 with a score of 5-0.  The war continues Tuesday with Freese on the mound against Bailey, and this should prove to be the more competitive of the two regular season bouts.

I think the community of Farmington is already anxiously awaiting the state seedings in hopes that PV and FHS will not meet until the title game.  The rivalry between the two schools has changed a lot over the last year.  The rivalry in the past has resulted in violence, vandalism, and a deep hatred for the opposing school that caused a sizeable rift in the framework of baseball in town.  With the new management a noticeable and long overdue burying of the proverbial hatchet seems to be taking place, and the community is benefiting from it.  Both coaches have been, at least superficially, very complimentary of the other school’s program and players in a number of interviews.  While the rivalry still exists and in many ways has never been stronger, in this particular season, it really does seem to be all about what happens between the lines.  It makes me proud to have once been a part of the same rivalry.

I am equally proud to be a Grinnell Pioneer today.  GC swept Illinois College at IC and has jumped out to 6 and 0 record in Midwest Conference play.  The Pioneers currently find themselves on the inside track to earning the host rights to the conference tourney in a month.  GO PIONEERS!

Mike Nodzenski, GC’s catcher, currently boasts slashes of .456/.518/.912.  Let’s just give this guy the MWC POY award now.  All-America anyone?  I say so.