Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck join Tommy Lasorda in Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball

Bugs Bunny is considered by many insiders including Nomar Garciaparra as baseball’s best all-time player.
Bugs Bunny is considered by many insiders including Nomar Garciaparra as baseball’s best all-time player.(Photo courtesy of Warner Bros./MLB Productions)
There is absolutely nothing looney about recently selected Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame inductee Nomar Garciaparra being Bugs Bunny’s biggest fan. As one of the best shortstops in the game in 1997, Garciaparra won AL Rookie of the Year honors with a 30-homer, 98-RBI season. Nomar was an All-Star in five of his nine seasons in Boston (1996-2004) and was a runner-up for AL MVP in 1998 after hitting .323 with 35 homers and 122 RBI. The Whittier, California native and St. John Bosco High School All-Star standout knew early on that he wanted to be like the talented and versatile rabbit:
Bugs Bunny is the consummate all-star in "Baseball Bugs" (1946).
Bugs Bunny is the star in “Baseball Bugs” (1946).(Baseball Bugs appears courtesy of Warner Bros.)
“Back then, my idol was Bugs Bunny, because I saw a cartoon of him playing ball – you know, the one where he plays every position himself with nobody else on the field but him? Now that I think of it, Bugs is still my idol. You have to love a ballplayer like that…” Nomar is not alone in the Wascally Wabbit Fan Club. Proud Italian American Tommy Lasorda marched with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck in a 2008 LA holiday parade and said, “Bugs would be an excellent baseball player. He’s more than just an ordinary steak sauce, a heckuva lot more!”
Baseball Bugs Poster by Kim Reynolds (photo courtesy of Warner Bros.)
Warner Bros. Senior Production Artist Kim Reynolds produced this Baseball Bugs poster.
Bugs Bunnys says: "Watch me paste this pathetic palooka with a powerful paralyzing perfect pachhydermas percussion pitch!" Otherwise known as the "Bugs Bunny Changeup", many MLB pitchers including all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman and current aces Justin Verlander and Johan Santana rely on this pitch in their arsenal.
In the 1946 “Baseball Bugs” cartoon, Bugs Bunnys says: “Watch me paste this pathetic palooka with a powerful paralyzing perfect pachhydermas percussion pitch!” Otherwise known as “the Bugs Bunny Changeup”, many MLB pitchers today including Justin Verlander and Johan Santana rely on this pitch to make hitters look silly while helplessly striking out. (Created by Friz Freleng/Courtesy of Warner Bros.)
Trevor Hoffman was a promising college shortstop who had trouble hitting in Minor League Baseball. Converting to a pitcher, Hoffman was never the same in MLB after shoulder surgery eliminated his 95 mph fastball in 1994 and 1995. He learned the changeup, which was so good it earned the nickname of “Bugs Bunny” because of the cartoonish swings it would induce from hitters. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said, “When I think of Trevor Hoffman, I think of his virtually unhittable changeup. They called it the Bugs Bunny changeup. Basically, it stopped at home plate. Guys hadn’t seen a pitch like that, and they couldn’t adjust to it. He pitched so well off his fastball they couldn’t just sit on it every pitch. But even if they did, they hadn’t seen a pitch like that so they didn’t know how to hit it.”
Illustrator Kim Reynolds of Warner Bros.
Artist Kim Reynolds of Warner Bros. has contributed his Lasorda illustration to the Tribute to Italian American Baseball Exhibit.
Despite Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander being compared to Bugs Bunny by MLB Network analyst Dan Plesac, it’s Tiger teammate Austin Jackson who aspires to have the superpower of the Looney Tunes character. The speedy outfielder said, “If I was a cartoon character, I think I’d be Bugs Bunny. I’d be the baseball Bugs Bunny, because I’m kind of sneaky a little bit.” Warner Bros. Management came up with a pretty sneaky idea for a retirement present to Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda in 1996 by giving a little bit of Looney Tunes love from Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck kissing Lasorda in a customized one-of-a-kind illustration. Warner Bros. Senior Production Artist Kim Reynolds said, “Bugs has always been tied into baseball with ‘Baseball Bugs’ released in 1946 so it was only fitting. It has always been a fan favorite. Daffy was added just to finish it. We decided on a newer uniform to give the piece a updated look.”
Daffy Duck, Tommy Lasorda and Bugs Bunny by Kim Reynolds is now on display at the Artists' Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball at Convivio in San Diego (photo courtesy of Warner Bros.).
Kim Reynolds’ Daffy Duck, Tommy Lasorda and Bugs Bunny illustration is on display at the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibition through the end of March at Convivio Center, 2157 India Street in San Diego’s Little Italy (photo courtesy of Warner Bros.).
Legendary Baseball Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda in San Diego celebrating his 86th birthday and the grand opening of Artists' Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball.
Legendary Baseball Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda in San Diego celebrating his 86th birthday and the Grand Opening of the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibit with curator Roberto Angotti on September 21, 2013. (Photo by Donato Resta)
The multi-talented artist Reynolds spoke enthusiastically about Lasorda’s reaction to receiving the retirement gift from Warner Bros. “As far as I know, Lasorda loved it! It’s always fun doing dedication projects, but it was especially fun doing this for Lasorda. I’ve always been a Dodger fan and it was a real pleasure creating this art for him.” Fans can see the piece in the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibit at the Convivio Center in San Diego through March 30. The traveling exhibition will soon pass through Orange County and Los Angeles to coincide with the beginning of the 2014 MLB Season. More cities will be announced in the near future.
Due to popular demand, the Artists' Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibit has been extended through March 30 in San Diego. Visit www.ConvivioSociety.org for more details.
Due to popular demand, the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibit has been extended through March 30 in San Diego. Visit http://www.ConvivioSociety.org for more details.

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A’s Grant Balfour rages against opposing teams

As it was previously in 2010 and 2011, pitching is once again all the rage now in Major League Baseball. Despite seven no-hitters tossed in 2012 by starting pitchers Homer Bailey, Felix Hernandez, Matt Cain, Kevin Millwood (with the help of five relievers), Johan Santana, Jered Weaver and Phil Humber, it’s the men in the pen that garner most of the over-the-top baseball fanaticism. Leading the late-inning charge of borderline insanity is Aussie closer Grant Balfour of the Oakland Athletics. Often seen dumping water over his head before leaving the bullpen and talking to himself in-between pitches, Balfour’s on-field antics are undoubtedly the most anticipated sight to see in the 2012 MLB playoffs.

The Oakland Athletics fans’ traditional ritual of raging before closer Grant Balfour enters the
game has resurrected sleepy baseball crowd participation to electric rock concert proportions.

Aussie Grant Balfour is not afraid to express himself.
The raging thunder from ‘Down Under’ was called upon by A’s manager Bob Melvin in five tightly-contested games on five consecutive days to lead Oakland to the American League West Division title. Balfour’s stellar late season hitless pitching insured the A’s sweep of the Mariners and Rangers. The six-foot-two, 34-year-old Sydney native threw an inning per day and retired all 15 batters faced–which extended his streak of putting consecutive batters away to 26. He is just one of two Australian professional players to compete in a World Series as a member of the 2008 American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays and is in a perfect position to get another crack at taking home a World Series ring in 2012 with the A’s.
Grant Balfour sprays Oakland A’s fans after winning the 2012 American League West Division.

A’s Derek Norris and Grant Balfour
Since August 11th, Grant Balfour has converted all 17 of his save opportunities while posting a 2.18 ERA, 0.73 WHIP and 26/6 K/BB ratio over 20 2/3 innings. After a three-year stint in Tampa Bay, Balfour signed a two-year contract worth 8.1 million dollars with the Oakland Athletics in January 2011. In his 62 innings of relief for the A’s during 2011, the hard-throwing right-handed hurler struck out 59 hitters and racked up five wins for the third-place Athletics. Acquired by the Rays in July 2007 from the Milwaukee Brewers in a trade sending pitcher Seth McClung to Miller Field, Grant Balfour did not make Tampa Bay’s 2008 Opening Day roster. However, after turning heads at Triple-A Durham and closer Troy Percival being placed on the disabled list early into the season, the Rays sent Ben Zobrist to Durham in exchange for Balfour. Assuming the role of Rays closer for the ailing Troy Percival until mid-July, Balfour ended his regular season campaign with an impressive 6-2 record and a 1.54 ERA.
Fellow Aussie Travis Blackley joins Grant Balfour and the A’s post-game celebration.
A’s closer Grant Balfour is in the prime of his career.
Grant Balfour made his MLB debut back in 2001 for the Minnesota Twins. Having now passed former MLB star Graeme Lloyd on the career strikeout list for Australian-born pitchers, he is the quintessential Aussie baseball patriarch. A’s pitchers Grant Balfour and Travis Blackley have already made baseball history by becoming the first pair of Australian Major League players to compete in the MLB post-season on the same team.
Grant Balfour had 24 regular season saves in a career-high 75 games during the 2012 season.
The pitching duo of Balfour and Blackley have another opportunity to imprint their names in Aussie baseball history by becoming only the second and third Australians to win a World Series ring. A fairytale ending for Oakland’s Australian connection would be most appropriate as they both have played a major role in the A’s miraculous run to the American League West title and the post-season. Like a fine wine getting better with age, Sydney’s Grant Balfour and Melbourne’s Travis Blackley are at the pinnacle of their careers and are in line to catapult the underdog to a world championship.

Roberto Clemente Award honors MLB players’ contributions off the field in the community

The Roberto Clemente Award is given annually to a player who demonstrates the values Clemente displayed in his commitment to community and understanding the value of helping others. Each of the 30 MLB clubs nominate a player, and the winner is announced during the World Series. Baseball fans will be automatically registered for a chance to win a grand prize trip for four to the 2012 World Series or $2500 of baseball equipment donated to the their community and an MLB.com gift card when they participate in the process of selecting the national award recipient by clicking HERE
to vote for their favorite 2012 Roberto Clemente Award nominee: Willie Bloomquist (Arizona D-backs), Tim Hudson (Atlanta Braves), Jim Johnson (Baltimore Orioles), Jon Lester (Boston Red Sox), David DeJesus (Chicago Cubs), Jake Peavy (Chicago White Sox), Todd Frazier (Cincinnati Reds), Jason Kipnis (Cleveland Indians), Michael Cuddyer (Colorado Rockies), Miguel Cabrera (Detroit Tigers), Wesley Wright (Houston Astros), Alex Gordon (Kansas City Royals), C.J. Wilson (Los Angeles Angels), Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers), Logan Morrison (Miami Marlins), Rickie Weeks (Milwaukee Brewers), Justin Morneau (Minnesota Twins), Johan Santana (New York Mets), Mark Teixeira (New York Yankees), Brandon McCarthy (Oakland Athletics), Jimmy Rollins (Philadelphia Phillies), Chris Resop (Pittsburgh Pirates), Matt Holliday (St. Louis Cardinals), Luke Gregerson (San Diego Padres), Matt Cain (San Francisco Giants), Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners), David Price (Tampa Bay Rays), Michael Young (Texas Rangers), Ricky Romero (Toronto Blue Jays) and Ryan Zimmerman (Washington Nationals).

2008 Roberto Clemente Award winner Albert Pujols congratulates David Ortiz after being named 2011 Roberto Clemente Award winner before game two of the 2011 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers.
Past Roberto Clemente Award winners have included David Ortiz, Tim Wakefield, Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, Craig Biggio, Carlos Delgado, John Smoltz, Edgar Martinez, Jamie Moyer, Jim Thome, Curt Schilling, Al Leiter, Tony Gwynn, Sammy Sosa, Eric Davis, Kirby Puckett, Ozzie Smith, Dave Winfield, Barry Larkin, Cal Ripken, Jr., Harold Reynolds, Dave Stewart, Gary Carter, Dale Murphy, Rick Sutcliffe, Garry Maddox, Don Baylor, Ron Guidry, Cecil Cooper, Ken Singleton, Steve Garvey, Phil Niekro, Andre Thornton, Greg Luzinski, Rod Carew, Pete Rose, Lou Brock, Willie Stargell, Al Kaline, Brooks Robinson and Willie Mays.
Willie Mays congratulates Roberto Clemente after hitting his 3000th and final career regular season hit in a game against the Mets in Pittsburgh on September 30, 1972.

Aussie Angel pitching prospect Aaron Sookee throws a heavenly slider destined for Anaheim

One of the most arm demanding pitches in baseball is the slider. The pitch is usually not taught to younger and underdeveloped pitchers unless their arms are physically ready to perfect the pitch. Unfortunately, the slider has caused more elbow injuries than all the other pitches combined. Having said that, when thrown correctly, the slider is one of the most devastating pitches out there. With a new found appreciation for this pitch and the pitchers who throw it, we turn our attention to an Angel pitching prospect that could possibly possess the best slider from his native Australia. Introducing 21-year-old Aaron Sookee

Six-foot-three LA Angel pitching prospect Aaron Sookee was as dominant as ever on the mound as a late-inning reliever for the Australian Baseball League’s Sydney Blue Sox.
The best pitchers in baseball use the slider to their advantage on the field, while their agents successfully utilize it in negotiations to ultimately determine their client’s fame and fortune. It is one of the four pitches that usually dictates a player’s ability to play at a professional level. The slider is very deceptive as the batter sees the ball as a fastball due to its speed and spin, but at the last moment the slider drops in front of home plate–unlike a curve ball which is detected by its spin or the pitching motion of the pitcher. A slider is thrown by grasping the ball with the index finger and middle finger not in the center of the ball, but off a bit to the right. Some of the most notable players to have made the slider one of the most difficult pitches to hit include: Hall of Famers Bob Lemon, Bob Gibson, Dennis Eckersley and Steve Carlton; legends Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, and Sparky Lyle; and pitchers Brad Lidge, Francisco Rodriguez, Zack Greinke, Johan Santana, Carlos Marmol, Ryan Dempster, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Joba Chamberlain, Ervin Santana, Aroldis Chapman, Jonny Venters, Daniel Bard and Craig Kimbrel.
Aaron Sookee promises to be an asset to the LA Angels.

Signed by Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim scout Grant Weir in 2009, Aaron Sookee knew early on that it was a match made in heaven when the Southern California team made an offer he could not refuse. The teenager pitcher had dreamed of playing professional baseball for the LA Angels, who had at the time been a favorite among Australian baseball fans because of the famed Aussie pitcher and former Angel/Blue Sox Rich Thompson.

2010 Blue Sox Trent Oeltjen and Rich Thompson

Working as a late-inning reliever for the Sydney Blue Sox this past ABL season, Sookee made his presence felt by averaging more than one strike out per inning, which is just about the same ratio of two-year Angel minor league campaign (61 strike outs in 59 innings). Heading into his third Angels Spring Training camp, Aaron appeared more confident and more determined than ever to break into Major League Baseball. The following interview took place in mid-March at the Angels Spring Training facility in Tempe, AZ.

Aaron Sookee will take the momentum from his strong Sydney Blue Sox campaign into 2012.
Roberto: What inspired you to dream of playing Major League Baseball as a kid in Australia?
Aaron Sookee: I guess growing up we didn’t get a lot of the major league games so you had to look to the local teams in the old ABL. I remember watching Gary White and Dave Nilsson, both catchers but really great players. And then more recently Chris Oxspring and Brad Thomas and just seeing how they go about their business to hopefully make me into a major league pitcher one day.
Roberto: When did the bidding war between MLB teams begin for your seven-year professional baseball contract?
Aaron Sookee: In January 2009 is when it began and a few teams, I think five or six from memory, were competing. But as soon as the Angels made a bid, I knew that I wanted to play for the Angels.
Roberto: Now with Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson acquired during the offseason, do you think the Angels have the winning combination?
Aaron Sookee: Most definitely, you know what I mean. They should win close to 100 games this year with them two. It should be pretty exciting to watch.
Roberto: Has playing in the Angels farm system and in the Australian Baseball League during the offseason helped you develop into a confident pitcher?
Aaron Sookee: I have come a long way. I think that’s from playing everyday. There’s a different brand of baseball here because you do play everyday and you have to be ready to grind it out everyday. That’s the main difference between Australian baseball and American baseball.
Roberto: What are your short-term and long-term goals?
Aaron Sookee: I think the first plan or goal of mine is to make the long season team
in the Midwest League for the Cedar Rapids Kernels. Then step-by-step hopefully one day I get to play pro ball.
Roberto: While a member of the ABL’s Sydney Blue Sox, you were being mentored by former MLB pitching teammates Dae-Sung Koo (New York Mets), Chris Oxspring
(San Diego Padres) and Brad Thomas (Detroit Tigers). Was that inspirational to you?
Aaron Sookee: It definitely was…just watching how those guys go about their business.
It was an honour playing alongside them. I learned a lot from all three of them, even though that Koo didn’t speak much English. He can translate through baseball language I guess and then Thom-O and Ox really helped me grow this offseason.Roberto: Why did you choose to become a pitcher instead of another position?
Aaron Sookee: Because I couldn’t hit. That’s basically it…couldn’t hit! (Laughter)
Roberto: There’s hope thanks to the designated hitter.
Aaron Sookee: Yeah right, it came in for a reason. (Laughter)
Roberto: Your pitching arsenal has improved dramatically with the addition of a wicked
slider, which has successfully ended a lot of innings for you. When did you add that pitch
to your repertoire?
Aaron Sookee: (Laughter) It’s come a long way during the offseason…maybe the last calendar year. I’ve been working really hard on it. I just can’t wait to use it this season.
Roberto: With that pitch, are you the Australian version of the Italian slider expert Alessandro Maestri of the Brisbane Bandits?
Aaron Sookee: Yeah, I guess so (laughter). Maestri has carved Sydney a few times…
He’s a true professional in every aspect of the word. Roberto: Does it feel good when fans ask for your autograph?
Aaron Sookee: It’s very humbling to see that fans appreciate what you do and all the
hard work that you put in because it translates to performance on the field. Yeah, it’s good.
Roberto: Any advice for the youth back home that are considering playing baseball?
Aaron Sookee: Just stick with it. Every time you can throw a ball, throw it and don’t hold back. Don’t leave any stone left unturned and just go after it. Don’t be afraid to play.
That’s the main thing I think.
Roberto: Thanks for taking time out to talk today.
Aaron Sookee: Thank you. It’s been a honour. Thanks for having me.