Results tagged ‘ World Baseball Classic ’

Notes from San Francisco: Language barriers, Affleldt’s new book and saying hi to an old friend.

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Hundreds of reporters from all corners of the globe are covering the World Baseball Classic, which presents an assortment of challenges for the tournament’s organizers. The main hurdle? Language barriers.

I’ve never covered an Olympics, but presumably, Major League Baseball has ripped a page or two from that handbook in terms of handling the media during the Classic.

Every reporter, regardless of what language he or she speaks, will have access to every quote uttered by the participants on the podium. How this is carried out is fascinating.

From a media standpoint, the World Baseball Classic is organized in the same manner as a Major League postseason. Formal press conferences are held in an interview room before and after games, attended by managers and select players.

Unlike the Major League playoffs, where clubhouses are open to accredited media after games, clubhouses are closed throughout the duration of the tournament. That makes the interview room sessions essential to reporters who would have very limited access to the players without them.

As a result, press conferences are very well attended, and, compared to the postseason, each session lasts quite a while — often 20 minutes or more. What makes these gatherings interesting is how many different languages are spoken, and because the reporters covering the World Baseball Classic aren’t necessarily from the same countries as the teams that are playing in it, this could be challenging during a general question-and-answer session.

That’s why a World Baseball Classic media gathering can look more like a United Nations convention than a baseball session. Interpreters work simultaneously to ensure every person in the room is able to ask questions in his or her native language, to listen to questions asked by people who speak other languages and to understand the answers given by the folks on the podium, regardless of what language they’re speaking.

How does this work? Headphones are available outside of the interview room, with channels to select from, depending on the language you want to hear.

Easy enough for even reporters to understand.

The postgame scene following Puerto Rico’s win over Japan on Sunday was interesting. Japanese media had questions for the Spanish-speaking players and Spanish-language reporters interviewed the Japanese manager, and thanks to the interpreters sitting in glass-enclosed booths in the back of the room, everyone got answers.

When a question is asked, interpreters from the other two languages repeat the question, and when an answer is given, the same process applies. Reporters tune into the channel of their choosing and simply listen in.

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The players and managers also wear headphones, which enables them to get the questions interpreted if they’re asked by someone who doesn’t speak their language. This process allows for a Japanese reporter to ask a question of a Puerto Rican player and receive a full answer in less than 45 seconds.

The other extremely helpful part of World Baseball Classic coverage is the utilization of court reporters, who document every press conference and provide transcripts to the media within minutes of the conclusion of the session.

Regardless of what language is used to ask the questions and given the answers, the transcripts are all handed out in English.

Pregame press conference: Dominican manager Tony Pena, infielder Robinson Cano

Pregame press conference: Dominican manager Tony Pena, second baseman Robinson Cano

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Netherlands press conference: Curt Smith (left), Hensley Meulens, Wladimir Balentien.

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Book Club

At 33 years old, Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt is fully aware that he’s probably too young to be writing an autobiography when there are still so many life experiences coming his way. But he does feel he has a few things he’d like to pass along to young people, and he also seeks a platform by which to speak out against injustices in the world he’d like to help wipe out.

He had those two elements in mind when he wrote a book titled “To Stir a Movement: Life, Justice, and Major League Baseball,” which is set to be released on April 1.

The focus of the book is not necessarily on Affeldt’s life, although he does offer several anecdotal bits based on his own experiences. Simply, Affeldt feels that professional athletes (contrary to what Charles Barkley has to say about it), are indeed role models. As a believer in good living, leadership and doing the right thing, Affeldt doesn’t shy away from the responsibilities that accompany being in the public eye. He embraces it.

“A lot of guys say, ‘I don’t want to be a role model,’” he said before one of Team USA’s World Baseball Classic games in Phoenix. “Well, too bad. You chose the wrong profession. You’re automatically a role model. Good or bad, you’re going to be one.”

How many of us, at age 30, would love to go back to our 18-year-old selves and offer a little foreshadowing as to what’s coming? That’s part of what Affeldt, who lived all over the world as part of a military family growing up, hopes to accomplish by publishing this book. He’d like to act as a middle man of sorts to kids just now coming of age.

“There’s a lot of 15 to 25-year-olds that I think are a little bit confused when it comes to leading in this country and in the world,” he said. “I wanted to give a little bit of my perspective on what I think a leader does, no matter if he plays sports or not.”

At the same time, Affeldt does feel strongly about being an influence on athletes specifically.

“If I can get to those high school kids right now and say, ‘Look, as an athlete, this is what an athlete is going to act like. This is what an athlete should act like,’” he said. “Sometimes when you watch TV you don’t always see what an athlete is supposed to act like, but I would like to share a different way of being an athlete.”

Part of this involves paying it forward. Affeldt has been actively involved in a number of charitable causes in recent years, including the Not For Sale/Free2Play Foundation, which is driven to rid the world of human trafficking, genocide and slavery, much of it in less-developed countries.

In 2005, he founded “Generation Alive,” a movement of young people responding to the needs of other young people. In 2010, he was the Giants’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award.

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Where are They Now?

For those of you watching the World Baseball Classic game between the Dominican Republic and the Kingdom of the Netherlands on Monday: What was the first thing you thought of as you watched Moises Sierra dive into the stands to make the catch in left field that ended the first inning?

If you said “Steve Bartman,” you’re probably not alone.

It’s quite possible that for the rest of human civilization as we know it, any time a ballplayer makes a catch while interfering with a foul ball-seeking fan, images of Bartman and that fateful 2003 NLCS game between the Cubs and Marlins will come to mind.

So you had to appreciate that following Sierra’s catch, the cameras immediately panned to Moises Alou, whose brush with fan interference during that Cubs playoff game nearly a decade ago didn’t turn out quite as well. Alou was easy to find for this camera shot — as the general manager of the Dominican Republic team, he was in the dugout during the game. (He’s also pictured above, on the left.)

Alou’s full-time job is serving as the GM of Escogido in the Dominican Winter League. He also moonlights as a batting practice shagger, as evidenced by this photo taken Monday afternoon at AT&T Park:

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More instant replay is coming in ’14. The question is, how much more?

Whether he's talking pitching, World Baseball Classic or instant replay, Joe Torre attracts a crowd wherever he goes.

Whether he’s talking pitching, World Baseball Classic or instant replay, Joe Torre attracts a crowd wherever he goes.

Major League Baseball implementing expanded replay in 2014 isn’t exactly new news, but every time Joe Torre addresses the situation, as he did on Tuesday, he seems to bring a new clarity to the situation.

Torre, Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of baseball operations, is currently serving as Team USA’s manager in the World Baseball Classic. With his club playing at Camelback Ranch in Glendale to play the White Sox, Torre was again back in arm’s reach of curious reporters who are determined to get to the bottom of the instant replay conundrum.

It appears everyone is on board with the notion that more instant replay is needed. The question appears to be, how far should they take it? And, how much is too much? There are limits, Torre said, asking, “Do we want to get everything right?”

Torre obviously isn’t looking for bad calls to be made. He’s simply looking for a logical way to decipher what needs to be put under further review and what should simply be considered the human aspect of umpiring. Effusive in his praise of the umpires, Torre is not looking to stop play for every single disputed call.

After all, Torre said, even when play is halted, there’s no guarantee replay will provide a final decision with 100 percent accuracy.

“To me, even when you use replay there are going to be times when you’re not going to be able to tell,” he said. “Two guys can see the same replay and you’re going to get, ‘I see it this way, I see it that way.’ I think what we’re looking at is some of the obvious stuff that you can see right away. We certainly want to address that. But I don’t think we want to get into every single play. The game would never end.”

As it stands, the current replay rules involve judging whether home runs are fair or foul and whether a fan interfered with a ball. Possible expansion includes fair balls, foul balls and trapped balls.

The two elements that will never be up for replay scrutiny are balls and strikes. Torre has no desire to tinker with something that doesn’t need to be fixed, citing the umpires’ more than 95 accuracy rate in that department.

“You have to have something to yell about,” Torre quipped. “I don’t want to take the yelling out of this thing. That’s part of the color.”

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Instant replay has been a hot topic for quite some time, ever since MLB implemented it for the first time in 2008. I remember at the time hearing some fans use it as an opportunity to take shots at the umpires, which I felt was completely unfair and misguided.

The quality of the umpires, most of whom are universally respected by the managers and players, has not increased or declined over the years. It’s the same as it’s always been, and umpires make calls with a higher degree of accuracy than most may think.

The issues emerged when technology exploded. It started when TV rightsholders suddenly had the ability to install cameras at every corner of the ballpark and had 27 different angles when showing a play in slo-mo after the fact. This enabled the viewing public to see, immediately, if a call was good or bad. In my opinion, that was unfair to the umpires. They were watching plays unfold in real time and had a fraction of a second to make a call. If they made an error, it would take only about 30 seconds for the networks to let the entire viewing public know it, and even less time was needed for the fans’ wrath to reach the playing field.

Things became worse for the umps when the new ballparks emerged. In the old days, outfield walls simply went straight across and a home run was determined by one bit of criteria: the ball either cleared the seats, or it bounced off the wall and back onto the field. There wasn’t much gray area, making it much easier for the umpires to make a snap decision before starting the one-fingered twirl.

Today, uneven outfield walls and zig-zaggy lines define what’s in and out of play. It’s part of the “uniqueness” of stadiums. But what’s neat for the fans became headaches for the umps. I saw this firsthand at Minute Maid Park, where the crazy outfield dimensions made it, at times, impossible to decipher what was a home run and what just barely missed.

Implementing instant replay the first time helped rectify those issues, and there is nothing at all wrong with everyone acknowledging that the umpires indeed could use some help. It’s simply not fair to have them out on a tightrope by themselves while the fan base can see a blown call from nine different angles while standing in the beer line and watching the TVs on the concourse. Times have changed, and helping umpires evolve with the times should only be looked at as a good thing.

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Where are they now? Updates on Lane, Kent, Ausmus.

A couple of weeks before Constellation Field in Sugar Land burst onto the scene as the venue for the most recent Roger Clemens unretirement, I took a drive down there with a buddy to watch a different Astros alum pitch.

Jason Lane, who caught the final out that clinched the National League pennant in St. Louis in 2005 and played six seasons — as an outfielder — for the Astros from 2002-07, has resurfaced in pro ball as left-handed pitcher for the Independent League Skeeters. With a month left in their season, Lane has emerged as the club’s most productive starter, so much that he was named the Atlantic League’s pitcher of the month in July.

Lane’s decision to try his hand at pitching was purely coincidental. He was playing for the Blue Jays’ Triple-A club in Las Vegas last year and was asked to pitch an inning in a blowout game against the Diamondbacks’ Triple-A team from Reno.

Kevin Towers, the D-backs general manager, was in the stands that night. Towers watched Lane throw one scoreless inning and instructed his scouts to “get the gun on that lefty.” Later, the GM tracked down Lane near the underground batting cages.

“I didn’t know that was you out there,” Towers said. (The two had met briefly in 2007, when Towers, then the Padres’ GM, traded for Lane with about a week left in the season.)

Towers invited Lane to big league Spring Training this year, as a pitcher. Lane was assigned to the D-backs Triple-A team but was released after a couple of months.

Enter Gary Gaetti, the hitting coach for the Astros from 2004-06 and now the Skeeters’ manager. He and Lane had spoken briefly during the offseason and when Gaetti found out Lane was available, he reached out and asked Lane if he wanted to join the team as a starting pitcher.

Lane has made 13 appearances for the Skeeters, 12 as a starter, and has compiled a 3.03 ERA. He’s walked 13 and struck out 58 over 77 1/3 innings.

He’s never pitched in the big leagues, but he came close, once. Had the 18-inning affair between the Astros and Braves in the Game 4 of the Division Series in 2005 stretched to 19, Lane, who pitched in college, was up next.

He would have come in relief of Clemens, who pitched the 16th, 17th and 18th innings.

“(Pitching coach Jim) Hickey told me, ‘Roger’s going to go as long as he can,’ and that I was next in line,” Lane said. “He told me to start playing catch with the ballboy. I was just trying to process what might come.”

That moment never did come, thanks to a game-winning solo homer by Chris Burke.

Still, Lane is hoping that close call doesn’t represent his last opportunity to pitch in the big leagues.

“I remember my first inning in big league camp — the first warmup pitch was the hardest,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘just get it to the catcher.’ Now, I feel more relaxed on the mound than at the plate.”

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Lane resurrecting his career as a pitcher isn’t the strangest story involving an Astros alum this year. Even Clemens’ fourth unretirement at age 50 (which many believe is a precursor to him pitching for the Astros this season) doesn’t take top billing in the category of, “You’re kidding, right?”

No, friends, that honor goes to former second baseman Jeff Kent. If you’re like 98 percent of society that thought Kent was probably the least likely retired ballplayer who would agree to appear on reality TV, you were wrong, wrong, wrong.

The 44-year-old Kent has reportedly signed on to be a cast member for the upcoming season of “Survivor,” Phillippines edition.

The full lineup has yet to be revealed, but we do know of one other participant other than Kent who has committed: actress Lisa Welchel. My money’s on Kent having no idea who she is. It’s probably also safe to assume he’s not familiar with Tootie’s rollerskates or Mrs. Garrett’s high, shrill voice, and has spent no time wondering how a group of seemingly intelligent teenagers spent like eight years in high school.

Welchel played snooty beauty Blair Warner on the hit ’80s TV show “The Facts of Life.” Back then, she (or, at least the character she played) spent a lot of time admiring herself in the mirror and sparring with Jo Polniaczek, the rebellious teen with a sharp tongue and a big heart. Now in her late 40s, Welchel — wife, mother, motivational speaker — appears to be ready to roll up her sleeves and eat bugs next to a five-time Major League All-Star.

Check your local listings.

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Speaking of Astros alums…lest we not forget one Brad Ausmus, who was in town recently to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Flashback Friday.

Ausmus created a bit of a stir when the TV cameras panned on him in the GM booth exchanging pleasantries with Jeff Luhnow. With Brad Mills seemingly on his last legs as the Astros’ manager, it was only natural that Ausmus’ cameo appearance lit up the message boards and blogs.

In truth, the booth meeting wasn’t an interview, and as far as we know, the club hasn’t contacted Ausmus about the open managerial position. For now, the only managing gig Ausmus has on his plate is for the Israeli team that he hopes will qualify for the 2013 World Baseball Classic.


Ausmus insisted this managerial stint is not to be viewed as a first step toward managing in the big leagues.

“I have been asked that many times,” he said. “I’m not looking at this as a stepping stone. This is just something that realistically allowed me to still spend time at home and not have to travel a lot. The tournament itself is probably a week and a half long, including the workout days. The time commitment is relatively minimal compared a Major League Baseball season. It still keeps me involved in baseball and allows me to try something different.”

The qualifying round will take place in Jupiter, Fla. in September. Retired Major Leaguers Shawn Green and Gabe Kapler will serve as player-coaches, but Ausmus has no plans to join them on the field.

“I don’t need people to see me hit again,” he said.

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