The 2011 baseball season is finally here!
After experiencing a treacherous rain and wind storm in the Nashville area this past Monday, Mother Nature made a 360-degree turn and yesterday (Tuesday, April 5th), no one could ask for a better day, weather-wise. The sun was out and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the players as well as Nashville Sounds Manager Don Money and his staff were on hand to prepare for the new Pacific Coast League Campaign.
Before I go any further, I was glad to see things started off with a bang as I would like to congratulate former Nashville Sound, Erick Almonte, on making the big league club with the Milwaukee Brewers. Erick is now 33 years old and had played professional baseball for more than a decade. His previous (and only big league experience up to this point) was playing for the New York Yankees in late 2001 as well as early in 2003. He was at the right place at the right time in March, 2003 when Yankees’ shortstop and future Hall-of-Famer Derek Jeter injured his shoulder, sliding into third base in the 2003 opener against the Toronto Blue Jays on March 31, 2003. It was obvious that Jeter would be out for an indefinite period of time and Almonte came in and took over for Derek at shortstop, even though it would be only on a temporary basis. Almonte filled in admirably, but he also realized that once Jeter would be taken off the disabled list, his playing time with the Yankees would be limited or he would be sent back to the minors.
Almonte then bounced around with several organizations, including the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago Cubs. He was invited to spring training with the Cubs a couple of years back, despite not being on the 40-man roster. He didn’t make the Cubs, but it was nice to see that he got a good look with them. Erick played for teams that were overseas as well as independent ball. He was with the Sounds for a few years and had a great year last year, hitting over .300 and was invited to join the Brewers for spring training this year even as a non-roster invitee. Almonte’s discipline and approach at the plate, wowed new Brewers’ manager, Ron Roenicke as well as other members of the Brewers’ brass and he earned himself a spot on the big club as a pinch-hitter and utility player. What will happen with Almonte this year remains to be seen, but personally, I wish him the best and hope he stays in the major leagues for the rest of his career. Perseverance is a major key to success in life and Almonte’s story is remarkable and admirable. Even when I spoke with Almonte from time to time last year, I can tell how much passion and enjoyment that he’s had for the game and he deserves the honor. I also must mention a friend and a guy whom I knew from the San Antonio Missions, who finally made the major leagues last September with the Dodgers after toiling in the minors for so many years. His name is John Lindsey and he has been one of the best hitters in the PCL in recent years. As a member of the Albuquerque Isotopes last year, he continued to smack the cover off the ball and he is one of the classiest people I’ve ever met. Yes, I realize he is not a Nashville Sound nor a Milwaukee Brewer, but like Almonte, his story is also a great one and it only goes to show what can happen if you NEVER GIVE UP!
Now that I’ve mentioned these success stories in such lengthy detail, it is on to discussing the 2011 Sounds. Of course, I have yet to see the new guys who’ve never been here, but it’s so nice to see a lot of familiar faces when I walked into the Sounds’ clubhouse yesterday.
Of course, Manager Don Money is back and so is the rest of the Sounds’ staff from 2010. Last year, he continued where he left off in needling me. Don had a very impressive major league career and is good at teaching the young prospects in the minor leagues on how the game is supposed to be played. As much as he jokes around, he is the ultimate professional when it comes to teaching baseball. It was also nice to see Hitting Coach Sandy Guerrero, Pitching Coach Rich Gale, Trainer Dave Yaeger and Strength and Conditioning Coach Andew Emmick back as well. All of those gentlemen are so dedicated in working hard and do a tremendous job to ensure the success of the Sounds as well as the Brewers’ organization and they were all very helpful to me last year. I certainly look forward to be working with them as well as travelling with them this year. I even got to see Guerrero up in my hometown of New York City when I went up there to visit friends and relatives and my hometown since I was on vacation. I was so happy to see him and quite a few Sounds get the call-up to the majors late in the year. I even caught a game between the Brewers and the Mets at New York’s Citi Field and it was great to see a few former Sounds in the Brewers uniform. I even had a laugh from reliever Brandon Kintzler when he spotted me in front of the team’s New York hotel. He was surprised to see me and asked me what I was doing in town and I did explain that I was home visiting. I asked him if this was his first trip to New York and it was! I told him how much I enjoyed growing up in his city. I also got a laugh when he quipped to me, “No wonder why you walk so fast!” I couldn’t stop laughing when I then responded as saying, “Welcome to New York, Brandon!”. I don’t think he’s ever been in such a fast-paced and very energetic city like New York. I wished him well and I know he will have a great future in the majors with his stuff and his approach to the game!
Based on last year’s stats, it seems as if the Sounds will rely more on pitching and defense and not as much power as they had last year. Brendan Katin is back and we all know what power numbers he is capable of putting up! He and former Sound Joe Koshansky were tied for the club lead in homers with 26, despite the fact that Katin missed much of the early part of the season with a knee injury that he sustained in the home opener against the Iowa Cubs at Greer Stadium last year on April 15th. I wish Katin the very best since with his power, he does have the potential to still make it to the show. It was nice to also shake hands with returnees such as Eric Farris, Tim Dillard, Sam Narron, Mike McClendon and the rest of the last year’s squad that has returned. McClendon was one of those who got called up to the majors last year. He did a very nice job in the bullpen in 2010 and even though he got called up in a numbers game, I am confident that he will get called up again to Milwaukee because of his talent and work ethic!
I look for bigger things out of Eric Farris, especially after he was out for a few months due to a knee injury in 2010. The Sounds started off well and then when Farris went down, the team started playing inconsistent ball. With a sound knee, Farris can wreak havoc on the basepaths and with his hitting being even better after returning last year, I see him as a prototype leadoff hitter. Best of luck to Eric.
Mat Gamel is hoping to make it back with the Brewers and he is getting a good look at first base this year. A third baseman by trade, I know that Gamel is looking to expand his game by playing other positions and the key for him is to 1) stay healthy and 2) have the Brewers find a regular position for him. It was great that Prince Fielder signed with the Brewers once again in 2011 and he has been tremendous. However, with Fielder’s long-term status to remain with the Brewers is still up in the air, Gamel realizes that it is up to him to step up and to keep improving. I know he will continue to work hard and I know that Don Money and Sandy Guerrero will keep a sharp watch on Gamel to make sure he continues to progress.
The Sounds are also in good hands with a fine catching corps with the likes of Martin Maldonado and veterans Patrick Arlis and Mike Rivera, who has played for the Sounds in the past. Maldonado was called up to Nashville during the middle of last year and displayed a tremendous throwing arm and whenever he hit a home run, he crushed the ball! I know he will continue to progress and of course, Arlis and Rivera will also work hard to help as catchers as well.
I know that I can go on and on, but there will be plenty of days that I have a chance to report on this edition of the 2011 Sounds.
Yes, this was a long blog, but with all the excitement and things that have developed, I felt that I needed to bring all of this up.
I encourage all of you to come on out for opening night, which is tomorrow night, Thursday Night, April 7th at Greer Stadium when the Sounds take on the New Orleans Zephyrs, the Marlins’ AAA affiliate. The Sounds will also have their first Throwback Thursday Night with some concession items being offered at reduced prices. If you can’t make it to the game, you can certainly tune in to yours truly on 104.5 The Zone and on nashvillesounds.com, to listen to the action! I’m excited about another year behind the microphone and it was a pleasure to deliver the games to all of the loyal Sounds Fans. I look forward in continuing where I left off last year. I hope that all of you enjoy the season and whenever you see me at the ballpark, please don’t hesitate to come up to me and say hello. I always enjoy chatting with the fans and to talk baseball with them.
Please stay tuned for more future blogs, especially since I will also be making my first trips to Salt Lake City, Utah, Colorado Springs, Colorado and Tacoma, Wash., and I will mention about the ballpark and those cities when I visit them!
Until then, so long and Happy Reading! I look forward to seeing all of you out at the ballpark for the 2011 season! Thank you for your continuous support of Sounds Baseball!