Larry Gordon has it all. He’s a successful major league pitcher and is dating the perfect woman. He’ll earn big money in the free agency market at the end of the upcoming season if he plays well during this, his Contract Year. But his girlfriend walks out on him and turns his world upside down. Larry heads off to spring training to forget about her and get ready for the season. He learns quickly that his self-absorbed carefree way of life won’t cut it anymore, that he’ll have to find a new way to succeed on the mound and in his personal life. Follow Larry’s funny and poignant journey, and get a peek inside the world of professional baseball.
Recent praise for Contract Year:
“Contract Year tells not only the story of a superstar’s emergence in the key year of his baseball career, it presents the journey of a superstar’s heart in the most pivotal year of his personal life and shows how the glory we seek is sometimes right under our nose. A great read.” — Rick Hurd, National Baseball Writer
“The author gives a good glimpse into the trials and tribulations that a professional baseball player faces, including the stress and outside distractions we deal with on a daily basis. Although I am the polar opposite of Larry off the field, its’s a good story and I enjoyed reading it a great deal.” – James Simmons, Oakland Athletics pitcher
“Memory of a fan waving a sign “Marry Me!” was the inspiration for Contract Year, and the author lit up with joy and excitement. I know. I was there. And it’s been a joy watching Bee Hylinski develop the plot, deepen her characters, enhance the scenes, and tighten the writing, all for the love of baseball, and for the love of love.” — Clive Matson, author Let the Crazy Child Write! and Chalcedony’s Songs
“What fun to experience a young man’s success as he struggles to become more than he ever imagined becoming! When we first meet Larry, he seems a shallow and callow youth with a one-track world view: his baseball career and himself. But then–slowly and not too willingly–he looks beyond and sees more in his universe than himself, and he begins to change, to open up, to become. For this reader, he moved from a boy I did not much like to a person I enjoy knowing.” — Jean G., Walnut Creek, CA
“I just finished Contract Year and the ending was wonderful. Wish we heard more stories like that.” Ray D., Walnut Creek, CA
“It’s really good! Very well written.” Ned L., Seattle, WA
It’s been a while since I posted an article on this blog. Before I get kicked out of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, I thought I’d give you an article about this-and-that about the A’s during the last couple of months, in no particular order.
Where I’ve Been: First, let me explain my absence from these pages. I needed to get my 120,000 word novel into final form with the help of my free-lance editor, Rick Hurd. Once that was done (Is it ever done?), I began last week the unenviable task of trying to find an agent to represent my novel Contract Year: A Story about Love and Baseball. I had to do a lot of research trying to find agents who like baseball, which is not easy to do. That’s not something they usually share in their agent profiles. So far, I have queried 3 agents and I have identified another who likes sports. So that’s why I have not posted an article in almost 2 months.
So on to News of the A’s:
A’s New Radio Station: During the off season, the A’s attempted to buy their flagship radio station KTRB, which had filed bankruptcy. A deal couldn’t be accomplished, so March 31st the A’s announced that they have a new flagship station, KBWF FM 95.7 “The Wolf,” a country and western station with perhaps the strongest FM signal in the Bay Area. Given the problems with reception in various places in the East Bay and elsewhere that we fans experienced in the last few years, this is very good news.
Apparently AM radio popularity is waning and FM is gaining in popularity rapidly, and is expected to take over the sports broadcasting market in the near future. The A’s are currently the only MLB team whose sole flagship station is in FM format, and the broadcast quality is vastly superior to AM. Several other teams have both AM and FM stations carrying the same braodcast.
On April 15th, only 2 weeks later, KBWF rebranded itself as Sports Radio 95.7, changing it’s format to full-time sports talk radio. This allows the A’s pregame show to expand to a full hour and Chris Townsend’s post-game call-in show to last at least an hour and sometimes longer. In short, this is a really good situation for the A’s and their fans and will continue through the 2014 season under the current contract. FYI, KBWF is also the flagship radio station for the San Jose Sharks.
A’s Organizational Changes:
Sacramento River Cats:The A’s extended their contract with the Sacramento River Cats, the A’s Triple-A affiliate since 2000, through the 2014 season.
In 2010, the Rivercats won their 9th Pacific Coast League Division title in 11 years, and the team has won 4 PCL Championships since they joined the A’s organization. They also led Minor League Baseball in attendance during 9 of the last 11 years.
A’s Shuffle Minor League Affiliates: The Burlington Bees of the Midwest League is now the Single-A affiliate of the A’s in the Midwest League, replacing the Kane County Cougars.
The Bees were the Single-A affiliate of the Kansas City A’s from 1963-1967 and continued as the A’s Single-A affiliate for 6 more years after the A’s moved to Oakland. FYI, this season so far, the Bees are 8-2, leading the Western Division with the league’s best W-L record. Kane county is in last place.
The Vermont Lake Monsters of the New York-Penn League has replaced Vancouver Canadiens of the Short Season Northwest League, as the A’s short season Single-A affiliate. Of the new teams, A’s GM Billy Beane said, “Both areas are steeped in rich baseball history and offer very supportive communities. It should be an exciting and mutually beneficial partnership for all parties involved.”
A’s Coaching Changes: Curt Young, who was the A’s pitching coach for the last 7 years, is now the pitching coach for the Red Sox. We are all sad to see him go but wish him the best of luck.
Ron Romanick, at left, the A’s bullpen coach for the last 3 seasons, was promoted to fill Curt Young’s shoes with the A’s. Before becoming the bullpen coach, Romanick spent 9 years as the A’s minor league roving pitching instructor, and was instrumental in developing pitchers Trevor Cahill and Dallas Braden and others. The bullpen duties are now handled by Rick Rodriguez, who has been the pitching coach for the Sacramento River Cats for most of the last 10 years.
Also, Gerald Perry is back as A’s hitting coach, replacing Jim Skaalen, who held the position during the last two seasons. This is Perry’s second stint as A’s hitting coach (2006). In addition, Joel Skinner, who came over from the Cleveland Indians, has replaced Tye Waller as A’s bench coach, with Waller sliding over to first base coaching duties.
Trainers and Other Medical Changes: Steve Sayles is no longer the A’s head trainer. Nick Paparesta, who was the assistant trainer for the Tampa Bay Rays for the past three seasons, has assumed the reins. Walt Horn remains an assistant trainer along with Brian Schulman, who was a trainer at Cal Berkeley for the last 7 years.
In October of 2010, the A’s parted company with the Webster Orthopedic Group, shortly after Dallas Braden filed a medical malpractice suit against the group,
for the permanent nerve damage when they nicked a nerve during a cyst removal from his foot. He has no feeling in part of his foot, which affects his pitching delivery, his perfect game notwithstanding.
Ticket Sales up: A’s season ticket sales are up 50% this year. It validates the moves that Billy Beane made this offseason. (See previous post on this blog here.) The presence of Hideki Matsui probably accounts for much of the rise. Also, inspite of playing in a bad ballpark, threats of moving the team elsewhere, and some anti-fan moves (like the tarps and cancelling the annual FanFest), people still like the A’s a lot and remain loyal.
Facebook Study: The social media giant conducted a study of members who “like” their teams.
Phillies fans were found to be “most loyal”, St. Louis Cardinals are most beloved by women, but the Oakland A’s fans are the “most social,” meaning they have the most friends on Facebook. A’s fans are the only team-based community that averages over 500 “friends” per member. A’s fans are also the “most scattered around the country”, are “among the youngest”, “most likely to be single”, and “most male-centric in the major leagues.” You can read the report here.
Now to Leave Lou With Something Musical. One of my favorite baseball songs is entitled, “Somewhere between Old and New York” by Dave Grusin, Randy Goodrum and Dave Loggins, and sung by Phoebe Snow. Enjoy it here. Listen carefully to the lyrics. They are pure poetry.
When Rickey Henderson was introduced to the crowd at the 2009 Hall of Fame Indiuction Ceremony, a roar went up from the 21,000+ fans in attendance. Rickey played for nine teams in his career, so he had a lot of fans present sporting different logos, but by far the largest percentage were wearing the green and gold of the Oakland A’s. It also didn’t hurt that Sports Travel and Tours had seven bus loads of mostly A’s fans in the audience.
Unfortunately, we were sitting so far away that Rickey appeared to be a cream-colored dot amid the sea of dark suits on the unlighted stage. That’s Rickey seated at the left end of the front row next to the red, white and blue bunting. (By the way, this picture was taken with the maximum zoom on my camera which makes Rickey look much closer than he really was.) Consequently, we were forced to watch most of the festivities on the large TV screen to the left of the stage. The thought flashed through my mind that I could been dry and comfy watching this at home, but I dismissed it immediately. There was something electric about being among the fans present sending love to Rickey in his moment of glory. I felt humbled by being able to witness history in person.
Rickey’s speech had been eagerly anticipated by the media and the blogosphere, who looked forward to “Rickeyisms.” 3rd person references to himself, and another “I am the greatest of all time” speech. Those who wanted to hear these Rickey trademarks were sorely disappointed. The majority of us were hoping that Ricky would give a great speech and do us proud, and in that regard he hit it out of the park.
He talked about growing up in Oakland, how he really wanted to play football, but his mother told him to play baseball because she was worried him getting hurt, how when Rickey was a boy his coach brought him hot chocolate and doughnuts when he came to pick him up to make sure he came to Babe Ruth baseball practice, and how Mrs. Tommie Wilkerson, his high school guidance counselor encouraged his success on the diamond with quarters for hits, stolen bases and home runs.
He thanked his former managers, especially Billy Martin, whom he said he would never forget and wished he could be there that day. And he thanked Charlie Finley (and his donkey) and the Haas family for giving him the chance to play baseball in Oakland. And he thanked the fans who supported him no matter where he played. (Go here to read a transcript of the speech: http://nationalsportsreview.com/sports/us/digitalsportsdaily/2009/07/26/rickey-henderson-hall-of-fame-induction-speech/)
In closing, he suckered us all into expecting a flash of Rickey ego when he said: “I am now in the class of the greatest players of all time. And, at this moment, I am…” He paused and looked up. Here it comes we all thought. “I am…very…very…(long pause)… humble.” Just the right note to end the perfect speech. The crowd got to its feet and the applause could be heard in the next county. If you want to see some of his speech again (or for the first time), here is a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tcd0fdt4JyU.
Rickey was later interviewed about the speech. He said he had attended classes at Laney College in Oakland to learn how to deliver the speech.
Can you imagine being a student in that speech class when Rickey Henderson walked in and sat down? They probably thought they’d died and gone to heaven! He also said that he practiced his speech for three solid days before traveling to Cooperstown. When asked about the cream-colored suit he wore, he said it was 10 years old.
God love you, Rickey!
Rickey was truly unique, a very special one of a kind. A great baseball player, the best leadoff hitter of all time, some say the best left fielder ever, certainly the best Oakland Athletic in history, and among the very greatest of players who ever played the game of baseball. But he was more than that. In his four stints with the Athletics, he became the face of the A’s and a delight to the fans who often chanted, “Run, Rickey, run,” whenever he got on base, and run he usually did.
I remember going to the first game he played in Oakland after being traded from the Yankees midseason in 1989. When he was announced, the applause was thunderous, all of us on our feet, yelling as loud as we could and beating on anything that would make noise to welcome him back. He turbocharged an already good team into the World Series that year–the infamous Earthquake Series–and was the AL MVP the following year. And now he is in the Hall of Fame wearing an A’s cap. It can’t get any better than that!
Tomorrow: Rickey’s Number Retired in Oakland.
Bay Area Teams Swept: The A’s and their counterparts across the Bay were unceremoniously swept over the weekend. I had hoped for a win yesterday for A’s 21-year-old rookieTrevor Cahill against Eric Bedard, especially after the very expensive Seattle hurler had such a mediocre season last year, but it was not to be. Cahill pitched a terrific game through 6+ innings, only giving up a run, but it was one run too many. Bedard was lights out, living up to his pre-Seattle reputation.
Red Sox in Town: Tonight the A’s begin a series at home with the Red Sox and as usual the Coliseum will look more red than green and gold. Red Sox fans–at least those who come to A’s games–are some of the most rude and obnoxious fans I’ve ever encountered. Unfortunately, A’s fans get sucked in and give as good as they get. It doesn’t make for a pleasant evening at the ballpark and I avoid these games like the plague.
A Leftover Post from Spring Training: I wrote this on the plane coming home from Spring Training at the end of March. It got sidelined once the season started and in all the sadness over the death of Nick Adenhart. Since there is nothing much to celebrate after a weekend of losses, I have decided to put it in here–a positive note for a change.
On March 29th before the Colorado Rockies game (the subject of my “Speed Guns, Testosterone and a Snafu” post below) I drove out to the Minor League Camp at Phoenix’ Papago Park. I parked the car under a Smoke tree, and walked in towards the playing fields. Here the players in the A’s organization who are invited to Spring Training–from Single A through Triple A–work out in the mornings and play intra-squad games after lunch. It was a slightly overcast morning in the seventies with a light breeze to keep things very comfortable.
I was astounded that there were exactly 5 people in the whole complex who were not players, coaches or groundskeepers. A guy sat in a beach chair munching on chips and watching the Triple A field from about 30 feet away. Across the way, an older couple and a woman on a cell phone sat on the metal bleachers at the Double A field. The fifth was yours truly.
I had come on a mission: to talk to “my guys,” three A’s minor league pitchers whom I had interviewed in October of 2007, when they were playing for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League. At that time I was doing research on the life of a professional ballplayer for my novel, “Contract Year”, which is now “finished”–is anything ever finished? I wanted to say hello and catch up with them.
The first one I found was James Simmons, a lanky right-handed pitcher with a dazzling smile, who was drafted 26th overall by the A’s in the 2007 MLB June draft, and who commanded a seven-figure signing bonus from the A’s. For the last two seasons, he’s pitched for the Double A Midland Rockhounds in the Texas League, completely bypassing all rookie and A ball levels. He’s playing at Sacramento with the Triple A River Cats this season.
I asked James how he felt about Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson (both drafted the year after Simmons) getting an opportunity to play for the A’s this year. He said, “I’m not ready yet. There are still some things I need to work on. I’m fine with it and they deserve it.” Now there’s class!
While I was talking to James, Jeff Gray, another RHP who pitched for the River Cats last season strode up with a big smile on his face and extended his hand. He’s the oldest of the three at 28, and I had hoped he might break camp with the A’s this spring. Joe Stiglich, the A’s beat writer for the Contra Costa Times and other Bay Area News Group papers, told me that the A’s are “high on him,” but he’s going back in Sacramento to start this season.
I had to go looking for the last guy, Brad Kilby, a LHP who has pitched for Sacramento the last two seasons. I found him sitting on the bench next to the water cooler, staring at the paper cup in his hand . A man of few words, he’s also back in Sacramento for another season.
I have been following the careers of these three ballplayers from Double A to Triple A, and in Jeff’s case to the A’s. Last September Jeff got a “cup of coffee” in the majors, when the A’s called him up after rosters expanded on September 1st. He threw 5 innings in relief with the A’s and I got to see him pitch two of them in person. These guys have been invaluable to me in terms of my understanding of what minor league ballplayers have to deal with: playing for peanuts, climbing up the minors, hoping to get called up, and dealing with the fact that so much of their fate is out of their hands.
I brought a copy of my book with me and gave it to James to read. The other two will read it after James is finished. James, bless his heart, agreed to write a blurb for the dust jacket when the book is published.
I must confess that my heart was aflutter standing around talking to these good-looking very fit young men who are living the dream I would have aspired to in my youth if I’d had a Y-chromosome. They are all extremely nice and enthusiastic, and I am honored to call them my friends.