Billy-Ball Daily: 2008-7-24

7/24/2008
Billy-Ball Daily
Bill Chuck (Billy-Ball his own self)

Billy-Ball – From the diamond to your desktop…
By Baseball Newstalgist, Bill Chuck

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The only spin here is on my screwball

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Top of the 1st
HI, TECH! – A BILLY-BALL SPECIAL EDITION
I spend an inordinate amount of time in front of my computer reading and answering emails, researching and writing baseball, writing copy for clients and (desperately) seeking additional employment opportunities. Yet as much time as I spend on-line (9+ hours a day), I’m not even going beyond the surface of what the web has to offer in terms of baseball.

With that in mind, I thought I would devote a special column to some of the technology and features of the web that would be of interest to e-baseball fans. Caveat emptor – I am by no means any form of specialist in this, my hope is, in fact, that those of you who know what you’re talking about will share your knowledge with your fellow readers (and me!).

Facebook and MySpace, you’ve heard of them and you know their enormous popularity. They are the most widely used social networking sites and while their use started with the young, oldsters like myself are starting to understand their value all the more. A more or less official definition of Facebook is that of a social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them.

Facebook is filled with a multitude of baseball related sites. In my mind, Facebook and MySpace are natural watering holes for fans and minor league organizations should be making a concerted effort to position themselves on these sites.

On Facebook, I can be found under “Bill Chuck” and there is a group site for Billy-Ball. On MySpace go to http://www.myspace.com/billyballbaseball. Please “friend me” and write on my wall.

See the popularity of social networking, MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM), the interactive media and Internet company of Major League Baseball, CAA Sports and venture capitalists have launched a social-networking site that will allow athletes such as Derek Jeter and LeBron James to interact with youth athletes. The site named WePlay.com focuses on youth sports. The site blends the networking capabilities of MySpace and Facebook with some of the classic, instructional elements featured in SI for Kids like “Tips from the Pros.” “What we’re trying to do is actually bridge the gap between a guy who’s playing shortstop for the New York Yankees and some kid who’s playing shortstop in Sandusky, Ohio,” said WePlay CEO Steve Hansen.

BaseballNooz appears to be similar to MySpace and is designed to act as an online alternative to mainstream baseball news and information.

In my searching for baseball and social networking, I found out about John Wolff. It turns out when Wolff was at Harvard, he lived down the hall from Mark Zuckerberg, the student who created Facebook. Wolff, a self-described computer nerd, who was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 47th round as a shortstop and spent time with the Bristol White Sox, the North Shore Spirit, the New Jersey Jackals, the Kalamazoo Kings, the Gulf Coast Mets, and the Lancaster Barnstormers has created eFieldHouse, a social networking site limited entirely to athletes. In his words, “I’ve had a difficult time adjusting to life after baseball. There’s a part of me that knows I’m done playing but I miss the tight-knit locker room community. My goal is to help recreate this atmosphere for other current and former professional athletes through eFieldHouse.com. I hope to help current, transitioning, and retired professional athletes in any way possible.”

Not everything new and interesting in technology is restricted to the web. At the home of the independent Kansas City T-Bones, kids of all ages will be entertained and educated by the new Sports Bytes Competition in which questions and answers on the subjects of mathematics, engineering, technology, and science questions will be delivered via their cell phones. For example, in between innings an announcer will ask the question, “Which ball has the slower speed when thrown: a baseball or a softball?” In response, kids will text either “sporta” for baseball or “sportb” for softball to 83960. They will then receive a response text with the correct answer as well as a link that provides them access to other Sports Bytes questions. Sports Bytes enthusiasts can access the questions anytime from their mobile phones by texting “sport” to 83960. The kids who answer at least one Sports Bytes question correctly are entered into a drawing to win a prize pack, which is given out later in the game. With baseball players in mind, the prize pack will include free tickets to an upcoming T-Bones game, signed baseballs, a first pitch certificate, a kajeet mobile phone, and T-Bones merchandise. In addition to the T-Bones, the Frederick Keys, Aberdeen Ironbirds, Bowie Baysox, Wilmington Blue Rocks and Delmarva Shorebirds are participating in the in-game promotions, along with the D.C. United Soccer Team.

I’m looking forward to trying out an on-line baseball game at home entitled Baseball Boss, the second game title from Texas-based Challenge Games, which launched Duels.com in August 2007. Baseball Boss lets users build fantasy baseball teams using real players (they have a licensing deal with Major League Baseball) from 1907 or 2007 (the more years will be added over time). To start you are given 40 players, displayed as baseball cards. The game will auto-create a team for you based on your best players, or you can go in and tweak each player individually, including setting the pitching roster and batting order. You then challenge other teams. If they accept, the game is played. The two players do not need to be logged in at the same time to play against each other. All of the settings are determined prior to the game, and the computer then plays it out, using chance and player statistics to determine each play of the game. You can actually watch the entire game afterwords via Flash in you like. You can improve your team by trading players, and you get new players occasionally when you win. You can also purchase packs of cards in a marketplace. Each player has a “rarity” score of 1-7 as well as a salary. For now, salary caps don’t come into play, but eventually the game will host tournaments and use salary caps to keep things more even. The company also says they will eventually allow you to upgrade your players as well (and no, the upgrades won’t be called “steroids”).

Fun and games business to baseball business, Major League Baseball will now validate home runs with a special hologram, which fans can verify in an online database. MLB has already used holograms to label merchandise such as game uniforms with a special numbered hologram; a pilot program began last year. MLB employs 135 trained and bonded authenticators serving all 30 MLB franchises, whose sole job is to verify and authenticate licensed MLB merchandise and record the numbers in an online data base (http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/authentication/index.jsp) where individual items can be verified for authenticity. Authenticators must be assigned to the bleachers, where they must not only be able to track a home run as it leaves the field, but quickly identify who caught it. Once verified by the authenticator, the unique holographic sticker is affixed using special glue. The identifying characteristics of the ball (who hit it, who caught it, the date, et cetera) are then entered into the MLB database, keyed to the unique ID number.

Umpires are getting some online assistance as well with a new Umpire Desktop that provides a dedicated intranet of sorts for umpires. Using Google Gadgets, umpires can get an inside look at the weather forecast or historical trends of a player’s behavior. Desktop computers installed in umpires’ dressing rooms will be able to create mashups showing everything from how field conditions will affect play to the historic behavior of players prone to fighting.

Following the game, umpires can file incident reports, and supervisors can add evaluations of another umpire’s performance. It will also serve as a training tool. A new in-house feature is “You Make the Call,” where MLB’s vice president of umpiring, Mike Port sends video of a controversial or intriguing call to other umpires, who are challenged to make the correct ruling via the portal. A citation of the actual MLB rule is included. The Umpire Desktop provides umpires with a chance to review video of the game, but the inclusion of instant replay for ruling on home runs, currently being considered by commissioned Bud Selig and other officials, would not be part of the system.

Here’s a use of technology that can only be described as creepy. Theoretically, the New York Yankees could have the 97-year old “voice of God” Bob Sheppard announcing lineups forever.

Sheppard, who has been announcing all the names and numbers for the New York Yankees since 1951, hasn’t been able to work this season due to illness. But by using state of text-to-speech technology, Sheppard’s voice could be the voice of the starting lineups for the next 50 years, if the Yankees choose to go that route.

Patrick Dexter, director of business development for Cepstral a leader in text-to-speech technology, told CNBC that it would be possible for the company to create a program that would enable the Yankees to have every player – the Yankees and their opponents – be announced by Sheppard’s voice forever.

It would likely cost the Yankees in the six figures, Dexter said, and the company would need at least 10 hours of Sheppard’s time in order to recognize all his speech patterns. If there’s a rookie who comes up for the Yankees in 2017 and the Sheppard program doesn’t immediately pronounce it right, Dexter said a technician could do a couple things to make sure the Sheppard voice program recognizes it correctly. One solution is to write everything phonetically. So if Jorge comes out George, it could be typed in as Horhay.

You can go to the column by Darren Rovell to vote on whether you think the Yankees should use the voice of Bob Shepard forever: http://www.cnbc.com/id/25706746.msn.com/

I am just scratching the surface here in this look at e-baseball and I hope you will provide feedback to me, Bill@Billy-Ball.com and let me know more about your intersections of baseball and technology.

One last thing that you might enjoy, XM Radio presents – XM Bobble Yourself – the only Facebook application that lets you build a FREE custom bobblehead of yourself or a friend. As a special salute to Justin Hall and all my new friends in Appleton, Wisconsin, I created a Billy-Ball-Brewers-Bobble-Head that can be found at http://apps.facebook.com/xmbobbleyourself/?bid=821F6EE49818C5B55C3AFA6D0C09BDCA with music provided by Big Papi.

Check it out the app for yourself:
http://apps.facebook.com/xmbobbleyourself/?bid=821F6EE49818C5B55C3AFA6D0C09BDCA

Top of the 2nd
AL QUICK REVIEW
Final Score: Tampa Bay 4, Oakland 3
James Shields (9-6) lasted 8 1/3 innings yielding three runs and six hits while striking out seven for the Rays, who have won four of their last six games. Shields is 5-1 in his last six starts. Greg Smith (5-9) went six-plus innings allowing four runs on five hits and two walks while striking out four as Oakland lost for the seventh time in eight games.

Final Score: New York 5, Minnesota 1
Mike Mussina allowed six hits over eight scoreless innings as the New York Yankees swept Minnesota, 5-1, in the finale of a three-game set from Yankee Stadium. Mussina (13-6) struck out seven and did not walk a batter. Mariano Rivera recorded the game’s final out to pick up his 25th save. The Yankees have won six straight. Starter Glen Perkins (7-3) allowed eight hits and five runs over six frames in the loss.

Final Score: Chicago 10, Texas 8
Carlos Quentin homered twice as the Chicago White Sox overcame four errors, the ejection of manager Ozzie Guillen and a four-run deficit in a 10-8 victory over the Texas Rangers to take the rubber match in the three-game series. Octavio Dotel (4-4) pitched a perfect eighth while striking out two to earn the win. Kevin Millwood lasted just 1 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on two hits and a walk before leaving the game with a right groin strain.

Final Score: Detroit 7, Kansas City 1
Armando Galarraga was perfect through six innings, and wound up allowing three hits and a run over seven frames as Detroit topped Kansas City, 7-1. The Tigers, who took all three games in the series, have won four straight. Zack Greinke (7-7) allowed seven hits and five runs over six innings to take the loss, despite striking out eight batters.

Final Score: LA Angels of Anaheim 14, Cleveland 11
Jeff Mathis smacked a grand slam and drove in six runs to highlight a rare offensive explosion for the LA Angels of Anaheim in a 14-11 victory over the Cleveland Indians in their three-game series finale. The Angels garnered 19 hits and had three players finish with at least four hits for the first time in franchise history. Cleveland starter Aaron Laffey (5-7) was touched for eight runs on 12 hits in four-plus innings of work.

Final Score: Boston 6, Seattle 3 (12 innings)
Mike Lowell drove in the go-ahead runs in the top of the 12th inning and the Boston Red Sox completed a three-game sweep at Safeco Field. Boston starter Clay Buchholz allowed three runs on seven hits and struck out seven over 5 1/3 innings and Jonathan Papelbon (4-3) pitched a scoreless 11th to get the win.

Toronto 2, Baltimore 1, Suspended
The game between Toronto and the Baltimore Orioles was suspended due to heavy rain in the top of the 6th inning with the Blue Jays ahead by the score of 2-1. The teams will resume play on today at 12:05 before playing the finale of the four-game series.

Top of the 3rd
NL QUICK REVIEW
Final Score: Cincinnati 9, San Diego 5
Adam Dunn belted his eighth career grand slam and the Reds first of the season. Padres starter Greg Maddux allowed three runs — two earned — on seven hits in 5 1/3 innings and didn’t factor in the decision. Maddux has now gone winless over his last 14 starts since his 350th career victory May 11 against Colorado, establishing a new career long. Bronson Arroyo (9-7) allowed three runs on six hits over seven innings — striking out seven and walking none — to win his fifth straight start.

Final Score: Pittsburgh 8, Houston 7
Houston, TX (Sports Network) – Doug Mientkiewicz went 4-for-4 with a pair of runs batted in. Jason Bay belted a two-run home run for the Pirates, who pulled off a sweep of Houston on the heels of a five-game losing streak. Franquelis Osoria (4-3) tossed two perfect innings to earn the win in relief of Ian Snell.

Final Score: Colorado 5, Los Angeles 3
Matt Holliday drove in a pair of runs to lead the Colorado Rockies in the finale of their three-game series. The Rockies finished off their seven-game homestand with a 6-1 record.

Final Score: New York 6, Philadelphia 3
Jose Reyes hit the go-ahead three-run home run in the 6th inning and the clubs moved into a tie atop the NL East. John Maine (9-7) got the win as he went seven frames and yielded just three runs on six hits while fanning five and walking two batters. Ryan Madson (2-1) took the loss with his sixth-inning performance and Billy Wagner, who was not available to close when the Mets blew a three-run lead in the series opener on Tuesday, set down the Phillies in order in the 9th for his 25th save.

Final Score: Atlanta 9, Florida 4
Tim Hudson hurled six shutout innings, and Gregor Blanco and Yunel Escobar each drove in three runs apiece in Atlanta’s win. Hudson (11-7) was forced to exit the game after six innings with tightness in his right elbow and third baseman Chipper Jones, who leads the major leagues with a .369 batting average, left the game with an apparent left hamstring injury. Ricky Nolasco (10-6) allowed five runs on eight hits in five innings en route to the loss.

Final Score: Milwaukee 3, St. Louis 0
CC Sabathia hurled a three-hit shutout as Milwaukee blanked St. Louis, 3-0, in the third leg of a four-game set at Busch Stadium. Sabathia (4-0), who threw 5 2/3 hitless innings before Brendan Ryan managed a clean hit to right, was never seriously threatened in the game. The left-hander walked just two and fanned seven in the contest en route to recording his eighth career shutout. The lefty has now won all four of his starts with Milwaukee, with three straight complete-game performances, and has yielded just six runs (five earned) over 33 innings with his new team. J.J. Hardy and Ryan Braun both homered for the red-hot Brewers, who have won seven straight games and have homered in 19 straight, tying the franchise record set in 1996. Braden Looper (9-8) was the loser, allowing just one run on seven hits in five innings.

Final Score: Chicago 10, Arizona 6
Reed Johnson hit a grand slam and Ted Lilly was solid on the mound, as the Chicago Cubs avoided being swept. Lilly (10-6) tossed six frames and was allowed just three runs on six hits while fanning six and walking three batters. Lilly also added an RBI single and stole a base in the win. Alfonso Soriano, who was activated from the disabled list prior to the game, went 1-for-5 with an RBI. Doug Davis (3-5) took the loss as he gave up four runs on five hits in seven innings of work. Davis also struck out six and walked two batters in defeat. Chris Snyder hit a three-run homer and Tony Clark added a two-run shot for the D’Backs, who are 3-2 over their last five games.

Final Score: San Francisco 6, Washington 4
Rich Aurilia’s two-run double off Luis Ayala…oh who cares?

Top of the 7th
PROBABLE PITCHERS
AL
Toronto Blue Jays at Baltimore Orioles, 12:35 pm
(R) Roy Halladay (11-7) vs. (R) Daniel Cabrera (6-5)
Tampa Bay Rays at Kansas City Royals, 8:10 pm
(R) Matt Garza (8-5) vs. (R) Gil Meche (7-9)

NL
Philadelphia Phillies at New York Mets, 12:10 pm
(L) Jamie Moyer (9-6) vs. (L) Oliver Perez (6-6)
Washington Nationals at San Francisco Giants, 3:45 pm
(R) Tim Redding (7-4) vs. (R) Matt Cain (5-8)
San Diego Padres at Pittsburgh Pirates, 7:05 pm
(R) Clay Hensley (1-0) vs. (R) Yoslan Herrera (0-1)
Florida Marlins at Chicago Cubs, 8:05 pm
(L) Scott Olsen (6-4) vs. (R) Carlos Zambrano (10-4)
Milwaukee Brewers at St. Louis Cardinals, 8:15 pm
(R) Ben Sheets (10-3) vs. (R) Todd Wellemeyer (8-4)

Top of the 9th
SEE YOU TOMORROW
Speaking of Baseball…

Bottom of the 9th
BUY THE BOOK
Bill Chuck is the creator of Billy-Ball.com and, with Jim Kaplan, is the author of the book, “Walk-Offs, Last Licks, and Final Outs – Baseball’s Grand (and not so Grand) Finales,” with a Foreword by Jon Miller available now from ACTA Sports.

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Information provided in Billy-Ball has been gathered from A.P. reports, espn.com, sportsline.com, mlb.com and numerous other e-sources. Opinions expressed in Billy-Ball are obviously solely the opinions of the author of Billy-Ball and do not reflect those of source material no matter how off the wall they may be.