Thursday, February 25, 2016

My Hometown Hero

Image Source

Baseball has been at the center of my life ever since I was old enough to grasp a four seam grip. I played from elementary school to the end of high school. It was a emotional rollercoaster ride throughout many of my years, especially when I was cut from my middle school modified team in back-to-back seasons. But growing up in the Hudson Valley and playing baseball as the leaves grew back on the trees each spring always managed to put a smile on my face better than any other sport could.

During my Senior year, I questioned whether to take my game to the next level. Some of my friends were planning on playing in college after enjoying a great finish to their high school careers. I injured my knee in the third game of that season, so I sat out most of the year and didn't get the scouting attention I could have. 

I fully recovered and played my final game, and then decided I would be better off allotting my time to my studies in college, and not baseball. At my best, I may have had just enough talent to sneak into college and minor league ball. After all, I wasn't Joe Panik.

Joe Panik has been a local inspiration for hopeful ballplayers like myself ever since he was chosen by the San Francisco Giants in the 1st round of the 2011 MLB Draft. He graduated from John Jay High School in 2008, which is less than a half hour away from where I grew up. We also both looked up to Derek Jeter growing up because of the way he led the Yankees on and off the field. The Hudson Valley region is littered with celebrities hiding out in private, but rarely grows Major League talent. My friends and I followed his path to the big leagues, hoping that he would offset the trend and become the star we had hoped for.

On June 21st, 2014, none other than Joseph Matthew Panik stepped into the batter's box for the Giants in a pinch hit appearance. He drew a walk in his first plate appearance, and his career was underway. His first major league start came the next day, and he hit his first home run on August 22nd against Nationals pitcher Doug Fister. The second base void was then filled by journeyman middle infielder Marco Scutaro, but his constant injury concerns gave Panik his opportunity to shine. He was added to the playoff roster as the Giants geared up for a chance to win their 3rd World Series title in five years.

In Game 5 of the National League Division Series versus the St. Louis Cardinals, Joe swatted a crucial two run home run to put the Giants ahead. 

But his biggest moment came on baseball's biggest stage. It was an 0-1 count in the deciding Game 7 of the World Series. Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer ripped a hard ground ball up the middle of the infield as Lorenzo Cain attempted to advance to second. Instead, Panik had other plans; diving to his right, snatching the ball, and flipping it with his glove to shortstop Brandon Crawford. Crawford fired to first, ending the inning on a double play. 

Following the game, Panik spoke about the play to the media: “Crack of the bat, you do whatever you can to stop the ball. Once I got the ball, the way I caught it backhanded, it would’ve been hard for me to turn my glove over, get my hand in there and hook a throw to Brandon. You catch it and try to get rid of it. It’s instinctual. Thankfully, everything worked out.” (Source)

Some have said that they don't believe the Giants would have won the decisive 7th game if it weren't for Panik's play. He celebrated with his teammates, and eventually came back home with the World Series trophy for all of his first fans to cherish. John Jay hosted a welcome home gathering on December 10th; honoring him for his accomplishments. 

Dutchess County Executive Mark Molinaro spoke at the event, saying "Dutchess County is exceptionally proud to call Joe Panik one of our favorite sons," he said. "He's a great ballplayer and a real tribute, not only to his family and the Wappingers Central School District, but to the county, as a whole." (Source)

Going into 2015, the second base position was left for Panik after Scutaro had been designated for assignment. He won the job with ease, and batted .308 midway through the season. His performance earned him his 1st All Star appearance. Unfortunately, his season ended early after he was diagnosed with lower back inflammation. It was a short, but sweet year for the young star.

This week, pitchers and catchers have been reporting to Spring Training. Joe is already in Arizona working out in full health, and is excited for the chance to prove he's far from a one year wonder to all of his critics. 

Sometimes I wish I allowed myself the chance to continue playing through college. But I'm perfectly okay with allowing Joe Panik to represent my hometown. He's done it right, and he's done it well.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Multimedia Blog Post 1 - Analyzing a Photograph

It was the biggest stage a ballplayer could ever dream of. Think about it. You think about that first catch with Dad. You think about your first little league games, and savoring ice cream cones after big victories. Little league fades away, and suddenly the games have a deeper meaning. You're in high school and college, and people start to watch you. You don't know if you're good enough, but you give your all regardless. You are good enough, and you move up in the ranks. You're in a major league organization, and you have a long way to climb. But you're still hopeful that one day they will give you a shot. In time, they do. And for the next two decades, you soak in the limelight. You're an All Star, a World Series champion, and a hero. Everybody knows your name.

But no moment could replace this one right here. Just after that sweet crack of the bat, you were prepared for the trip of your lifetime. Time stood still as you rounded the bases, much like this very photograph. History was made. 

Some weren't prepared for this image. America was in a different frame of mind than it is now, and some didn't feel like an African American man deserved to be the Home Run King. They would have rather not seen Henry Aaron unseat the Great Bambino, the embodiment of America's Pastime. 

But the days of "hot dogs, peanuts, and Cracker Jack" were long over. More was at stake than ever before. And the most beautiful part of it all was that in this moment, despite what you had to overcome to be in this position, all of the agony was gone. Nobody cared about the color of your skin. They were just in awe of the greatest ballplayer they ever saw.

This photograph of Hank Aaron's famous record breaking home run speaks volumes to its importance. The photographer captured thousands of fans anticipating the result of the play, almost as if they were gasping for air. You cannot make out their expressions because they are so far away, but that's the beauty of the picture. Everyone had an opinion about Aaron passing Ruth. Racism was far from eliminated in the United States, and it didn't help that he played for a southern team (the Atlanta Braves). Hank received death threats just for simply playing the game at an exceptional level. People weren't prepared to watch him dethrone Babe Ruth. This photograph captures Ruth's final second as the leader of that category. 

Statistics are crucial to baseball, and although Aaron has since been unseated by Barry Bonds, many still view his record as the true one. Had Bonds not allegedly taken steroids to bolster his already astronomical numbers, this photo wouldn't bear the same meaning that it does today. The lighting casts over Aaron like he's a comic book superhero popping out of the image and coming to life. It's a dark setting in Atlanta, which allows the stadium lights to have such a prominence in the landscape of the event. It may sound cliché, but one could say the way the photo was shot is symbolic of Aaron defeating his adversity and rising out of the darkness to the top of the record books. 

You cannot understand this picture's significance unless you know its background context, which makes it an informational style photo. However, baseball is more than just numbers on a stat sheet, and its emotional component tied with its historical context is the reason why I, and so many others have fallen in love with this sport.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Baseball Palooza Card Show Recap!

Buongiorno, everyone! I can't believe how long it's been, and how much has changed since my last post. It's been two weeks since I left the United States for the first time, and I am now temporarily living in the beautiful country of Italy. It is such an honor to get the chance to share these next few months studying in Florence, perhaps the cultural capital of the world.

I had a little time to kill this morning, so I decided to share with you what took place the day before I left. Unfortunately, half of my computer screen broke on one of the first days, just a week after I accidentally chipped my front tooth. I haven't been all that lucky lately, but then again, I am getting to wake up every day in an amazing city. I had my computer repaired for a semi-lofty cost, but it feels new and improved. With that in mind, let's get to the gettin'.

Dad and I first attended the MAB Celebrity Yankees card show last January. It was there that we met Don Larsen, Tino Martinez, and several other Bronx greats. We also met Frankie for the first time, and it was an excellent day when all was said and done. When MAB began to reveal the lineup for their 2016 "Baseball Palooza" at the same location, we knew we had to go. It was the best parting gift I could possibly ask for.

One of my main gripes with the show last year was that it was based in a very small room and got really tight in certain sections. There were vendors selling autographs scattered throughout the room, but it was hard to get a hold of them. Unfortunately, the location was the same this year, and they decided to expand the audience by adding Mike Piazza to its lineup. This was Piazza's first public signing since he was inducted into the Hall of Fame last month, and Mets fans flocked to the scene to get that fancy inscription. On top of it all, it was after the huge snowstorm hit New Jersey, so there was barely any parking available. After some time and frustration, we made it into the show and panicked to get in lines because some players were finishing their sessions before the scheduled time if they didn't have a line left.

One of such players was the first we met this year, John Wetteland. Last year, Dad basically had coffee with him, and this year we decided to get a ball signed spur of the moment. We didn't have any baseballs in advance, and Wetteland was preparing to leave until we let one of the MAB employees know we had a ticket. Dad dashed back to buy baseballs amidst the wild crowd, and came back as quickly as he could.

At this point, I don't remember too much about my exchange with Wetteland. I told him I was born the year he was World Series MVP, which I hope he didn't take as an old joke. My dad reminded him of their encounter from last year, which he seemed to vaguely remember.

I really wanted to find a 1996 World Series ball to have him sign, but should've ordered one in advance. There was no way I was getting anything other than a regular ball with the crowd the way it was. Until Piazza's signing ended, it was practically a mosh pit. But hey, autographs!

Wetteland inscribed a ball with his "96 World Series MVP" for me. Not many people remember how good he was at closing games in his prime. He currently ranks 14th all time in saves (330), and he added 3 All Star nods to his resumé in his 12 years. He was a guy I'd been meaning to add for quite some time, particularly on my Mantle 16x20. With the limited space left though, I passed on the opportunity for some other bigger Yankees I still need.

From there, I bounced over to Topps' newest representative, and one of my current PC players, Luis Severino! I've talked a great deal about the Yankees emerging ace through all of my pickups (My PC), and I knew this event was in the cards the second he was added to the lineup. 

I didn't know all that much about Luis until I started collecting his cards, but I'm definitely rooting for our top pitching prospect (if he's even considered that anymore). He was pretty friendly, but I knew he didn't speak the best English. What sucked was that he chose not to allow photos, which seemed like a bit of a prima donna move to me. However, I respected his decision, told him I collect his cards, and went on my way with a signed baseball to add to the collection.

Severino has a pretty interesting autograph, which I'll take over a just plain terrible autograph. It is definitely distinguishable the more you see it. Although I was really disappointed I couldn't get snap a photo with him, the experience could've been much worse (ie: anything involving Reggie Jackson).

Next, we made our way over to a Hall of Famer who has somehow managed to elude us ever since our very first card show. I'll never forget being at the Westchester County Center for the first time and standing behind Dave Winfield in the Nathan's line. It made the show feel larger than life (especially considering how big of a guy he is), and although I didn't get his autograph that day, shaking his hand was such an honor for me.

Mr. Winfield has been in the news a little bit lately, as he recently launched his own personal brand that will focus on some apparel. He was so friendly, just as I remember when he was waiting for his hot dog. He asked whose jersey I was wearing, and I showed him the big #2 and mentioned how cool it was that he was Jeter's favorite player growing up. I also mentioned the brand to him because I read a SportingNews article the night before about it, and he appreciated the support and told us that he wants to do some cool things with it.

He really seems like the kind of player you could have a really fantastic conversation with. In our brief moments together, I really gained respect for the Hall of Fame slugger.

I haven't been doing well lately with where players are signing on my Mantle 16x20. Many of them are accidentally leaving noticeable gaps between autographs, but I guess that's just what comes with the territory of being a perfectionist. However, Winfield signed perfectly where I wanted him to. He signed it large enough to realize it was his signature but small enough to give space for one or two autographs directly below Mantle.

As if the day couldn't get off to a better start, we then met our current shortstop Didi Gregorius! Didi blew us away with his kindness. I told him how I thought he deserved the Gold Glove last year after how much he evolved defensively down the stretch, and he was so humble and thankful for my remarks. We learned afterwards when talking to one of the showrunners that he drove Didi to the show, and really enjoyed getting to know him. I wish I could drive big league players around.

Didi doesn't have the most special autograph, but my baseball came out nice! He kindly inscribed his number, and as we walked away Dad told him he did an excellent job stepping into Jeter's role. I overheard someone say something about my Dad's comment, and Didi just shrugged and said "What are you gonna do?" with a big grin on his face. He embraces his role in Yankees history, but isn't letting it affect his performance. I really like that.

For a baseball player, it does not get much bigger than "Big Mike" himself, Michael Pineda. Pineda was acquired in a controversial trade involving our former top prospect Jesus Montero. Neither player has overly impressed, but Pineda easily has provided more for the Yankees than the Mariners have gotten out of Montero. 

Pineda occasionally flashes his potential, but injuries have frequently put his hot streaks to a halt. Last year, he struck out 16 batters in 7 innings against the Orioles on May 10th in what was his best career performance. Dad and I saw him pitch last summer against the Mariners, and were looking forward to getting to meet him at this show. I told him we love him in New York and were excited to see him pitch next year. We got a little smile out of the big man and a "thank you, my friends". It was the happiest I've ever seen the guy!

Aside from the injury bug haunting him, I think Pineda needs to get a little better at controlling his emotions on the mound. You can clearly see that he pitches differently when he knows he doesn't have his best stuff, and that is a quality that makes or breaks major league pitchers. When he's confident, there aren't many better pitchers in the game. But it's been a rocky road since he became a Yankee in 2012. 

I'm a little tough on Pineda because I know he has the potential to be something special. Also, I've tried to justify for years why I traded my friend Scott my David Ortiz autograph for his Pineda rookie autograph. He was very nice though, and the baseball came out so well, again with a number inscription (that looks like it was written in by a toddler).

Last, but most certainly not least, was Alfonso Soriano! We had a really good feeling about Soriano after we saw how much he was interacting with those before us in line. He took his time, flashed his $100 million dollar smile, and really looked to be enjoying the signing. There is no more relieving feeling than that.

I didn't get to see much of Soriano's early years in New York, but I'm well aware of his huge home run in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series that almost sealed the Yankees' 27th championship. He left New York in 2004 when he was traded to Texas for Alex Rodriguez, and the rest was history. Looking back, I don't think I would've made that trade. The drama has outweighed Rodriguez's performance in the Big Apple, which is telling considering he's won two MVP's and helped lead us to our 2009 World Series title.

When Soriano came back to the Yankees in 2013, I paid attention. Sure, he was 37 years old when we acquired him at the trade deadline, but he hit. In 243 plate appearances, Sori hit .256 with 17 home runs and 50 RBI! That is what I'll most remember him for. I told him that when it was finally my turn to shake his hand, and he was really nice in return.

And he gave me a wonderful autograph to boot. Does it get much better than that?

I've learned to embrace the role as a bit of a "suck-up" in order to get the best experience from players, but it really is the way you should act in that situation. These players face so much adversity and pressure (especially in New York), and my job as part of the fanbase is to help boost these players' self esteem. I didn't have a single bad encounter with any of the players I met, despite the chaos surrounding them at all times. I just wish more fans would think before they say something regretful.

Before leaving the show, I decided to buy a photo I'd been eyeing since we first walked in.

This signed 11x14 of Luis Severino is without question the highlight of my PC now. I didn't think I would have what it took to add this to my collection, but I really couldn't pass up this beautiful Steiner authenticated action shot for the price. This picture was from his Major League debut against the Boston Red Sox on August 5th of last year. He gave up one run over 5 innings, but didn't get any run support and wound up being handed a L. His first win came on August 22nd against the Indians.

I really believe in this kid's ability after watching countless videos and highlights of his. I'm going to continue to collect his cards, although I probably can't afford to add much more while I'm away.

Dad and I really had a blast at this show, as we always do. I couldn't ask for a better card show teammate, and just Dad in general. I miss you, as well as the rest of the family.

Alright, time to get up and get myself a cannoli. Ciao!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Multimedia in Sport Intro Blog Post

Hey everyone! It's been a few weeks, and most of you may think I haven't posted any content because I left the country at the end of January to begin studying abroad in Florence, Italy. While this is true, I have had time (and interest) in posting, but haven't been able to because my Mac broke my second night in Florence. However, after two weeks on the shelf, I am now back in business. I'll discuss more in future posts, but this post is actually for my "Creating the Multimedia Sports Narrative" course. Our first assignment for the class was to create a sports blog, and I was allowed to use this space for my work. So, as far as my regular content goes, prepare for occasional catch up posts to come.

Enjoying the view from the other side of the pond.

The first assignment was to basically outline why I got started in my Sports Communication major. I have an "About Me" page linked above with some information. I've been a major sports fan since I was around 8 years old, and my favorite sport has always been baseball. Hearing people say the reason they are sports majors is because "they like sports" has always been a huge pet peeve of mine. I've followed statistics religiously, collected all sorts of cards and memorabilia, and have written about baseball since I was 12! I've interned with a minor league baseball team, the Hudson Valley Renegades, and I plan on doing more in the future.

It's a very broad major, and I'd like to say I'm multitalented. I'm not sure where I want to end up down the road, but I've learned that I would not be happy if I couldn't do something I love. I decided to study abroad in part to obtain the International Sports certificate to place on my growing resume, but also to find myself and discover what it is I truly want to do with my life. I'm hoping by taking these courses and exploring Europe I will reach those goals.