Shortly after his pinch-hit single for the Dodgers AA-affiliate Chattanooga Lookouts in the fifth inning of the 2014 Southern League Championship game against Miami Marlins top pitching prospect Justin Nicolino of the Jacksonville Suns, Alex Liddi would embark on a marathon travel expedition from Florida not suited for the weak at heart to strengthen Team Italia’s chances of capturing its third consecutive title in the 2014 European Baseball Championship. After defeating Belgium, Sweden, France, Germany, Great Britain, Spain, and Czech Republic, Team Italia battles the Netherlands in the final today.
Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri said, “Let me tell you…Alex could not to wait to be here with us. He played his last game in Double-A ball on Friday night, September 12th then rode the bus for eight hours back to Chattanooga before driving to Atlanta on Saturday morning so that he could catch an eight hour flight to Munich. From there he had another two hour ride to Regensburg. When he arrived on Sunday morning, he went to the gym to work out with our strength and conditioning coach Gianni Natale for two hours. Then he ate lunch, and we told him to go to bed and rest but he couldn’t. He had so much adrenaline pumping that he couldn’t sleep after two nights of not sleeping. Then he came in to play and hit a big home run and double. He was just tremendous. I mean Alex is Alex… For us, Italian baseball around the world…it’s Alex along with Alessandro Maestri. Whenever we can, we just love to have them with us.”
Despite being labeled “The Rookie” for his his small size dating back to his childhood living across the street from Panama’s Omar Torrijos Herrera Stadium, Mets shortstop Rubén Tejada has big league intelligence and baseball embedded in his DNA. The Santiago de Veraguas native wants victory for his country. Host Panama battles neighboring Colombia, Brazil, and Nicaragua in the upcoming World Baseball Classic Qualifier beginning November 15th at Panama City’s renovated Rod Carew Stadium. “The only reason we are here is to win and clinch a spot on the Classic,” Tejada said. “The main thing is move on to the Classic, and God willing, everything will go our way. I come with more experience, so hopefully everything will come out as planned.”The winners from the Panama and Taiwan qualifying pools will join Spain and Canada in the first round World Baseball Classic competition against Australia, China, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Kingdom of the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, United States and Venezuela March 7-10, 2013 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona and Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale. Proud to be representing his country again after showcasing his talent in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and having matured into an everyday player for the Mets, 23-year-old Rubén Tejada brings an innate understanding of the game which rivals that of a seasoned veteran or manager twice his age. However, his interpretation of the strike zone sometimes gets lost in translation. In young Rubén’s case, patience at the plate came with a price for the right-handed hitter, who until 2012 had struggled for playing time since making his MLB debut on April 7, 2010. With the strike zone in Panamanian youth leagues being bigger than it is in America, Tejada was trained to swing at pitches that would be called balls in the USA. With this international anomaly, he had
the tendency to swing early at-bat. At age 20, Tejada was the youngest position player on the Mets Opening Day roster since Tim Foli in 1971. Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens implemented a more disciplined approach to Tejada’s at-bats by making pitchers work. Since then, Rubén now works the count in search of his pitch. “He can hit,” said ex-Mets scout Ismael Cruz–who signed Tejada in 2006. “People don’t give him credit for hitting. He’s not flashy, he’s not making noise, but he’s a guy who can hit .270, .280. I’ll take that any day. And he’ll jack one every so often.” With a career-high 25 doubles, a .289 batting average and a .333 on-base percentage in 112 games played during the 2012 season, Rubén Tejada had a breakout year despite missing nearly six weeks in May and June with a strained groin muscle. Serving as the replacement for 2011 Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, who took the the $10 million bait lured by the 2012 Miami Marlins, Tejada proved to be worth his weight in gold–earning a fraction of Reyes’ salary ($491,000). Perhaps what was most impressive about Tejada in 2012 was his defense. The 5-foot-11 Panamanian made spectacular web gem worthy plays and ironically finished the season with six fewer errors than Jose Reyes. The two former teammates remain best of friends and workout buddies. After the WBC Qualifier, Tejada will return to a Garden City, Long Island, New York training facility for his annual post-season pilgrimage with MLB All-Star Reyes. For now the business at hand is in Panama. “I’m very happy to be here, especially to be healthy and ready to do all that is needed to help the team,” said Tejada. “First we will try to win our pass, then we will start thinking about the 2013 Classic.”
A cattle rancher with properties outside Houston and also in his hometown of Aguadulce, Panama, MLB free agent Carlos Lee may not know where he is headed to play for the 2013 season. Yet he does know that home is where the heart is, and right now Panama is his immediate destination for the upcoming World Baseball Classic Qualifier at Rod Carew Stadium in Panama City beginning with host Panama’s opening game against Brazil on November 15th and culminating with the live
MLB Network televised WBC Qualifier Final on November 19th at 5 PM (PST). Home Sweet Home Panama will be Lee’s final outpost when he decides to gracefully retire at the end of his celebrated Major League Baseball career. “When I’m finished, I’m planning to go back home,” Lee said. “I’m from Panama. It’s pretty safe and nice there.”
Although 36-year-old Carlos Lee was last seen wearing a Miami Marlins uniform after a 2012 midseason trade, he has always been a fan favorite from early on in his career while playing for Chicago White Sox (1999-2004), Milwaukee Brewers (2005-2006), Texas Rangers (2006) and Houston Astros (2007-2012). White Sox TV announcer Ken “The Hawk” Harrelson–who witnessed firsthand Lee’s 2004 28-game hitting streak, which broke the franchise record and surpassed Rod Carew’s 25-game record for a Panamanian player–knew that the three-time MLB All-Star (2005-2007) and two-time Silver Slugger (2005 & 2007) was a special player and coined him “El Caballo”.
Despite his place in the White Sox records book, many think of Lee as a lifetime Texan. As the cleanup hitter for Houston, he drove in 100 or more runs in three of his five Astro seasons, averaged 26 homers and hit over .300 three times. Carlos Lee would rather be known for his comparison to Texas ranching icon Nolan Ryan–not for his seven no-hitters, 27 major league seasons, the all-time strikeout record, or his 324 wins–but rather for Ryan’s 2011 Golden Spur Award, which recognizes leadership and exceptional service to the ranching industry.
“El Caballo” lives up to his nickname as the owner of Slugger Ranch in Texas, where he raises prize-winning Brahman, and nine ranches in his native Panama. Lee instantly won credibility with his 2006 Brahman Grand Champion at the largest Brahman show in the world at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Two years later, he donated $25,000 and over 300 bales of hay to support Texas ranchers whose properties were ravaged by Hurricane Ike.
Growing up around his grandfather’s passion for cattle ranching, Lee is now passing down his love for baseball and cattle breeding to his own son, Carlos Alejandro. Jim Williams of V8 Ranch said of Lee: “Carlos is not only a good baseball player, but he’s also the most progressive breeder in Panama as far as importing top genetics. He probably knows the pedigree and bloodlines of his cattle like a sportscaster would know about statistics.”
Whether it’s the playing of the game of baseball, the breeding of cattle and quarter horses, or the roping of calf, Lee wants to leave behind the family legacy of being among Panama’s best. Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew, who was born in 1945 on a train in the city of Gatún–in what was then known as the Panama Canal Zone–currently holds the honorary title of Panama’s best all-time hitter. So it’s only appropriate that the country’s best–including “El Caballo” Carlos Lee–will be playing in the World Baseball Classic Qualifier under Panama’s legendary manager Roberto Kelly against Brazil, Colombia and Nicaragua at Panama City’s Rod Carew Stadiumbeginning November 15th. While handicappers are betting on
five days of modified double-elimination competition, insiders will be banking on plenty of horsepower from “El Caballo” Carlos Lee–who plans to lead Panama
from gate-to-wire en route to the WBC Winner’s Circle.
Venice Beach’s Lizard King, an alter ego of Doors lead singer Jim Morrison, imitated a Native American shaman. Since shamans identified strongly with an animal deity, Morrison chose the lizard because of its ability to reinvent itself by constantly shedding its skin and personified his deity by only wearing leather pants. Native cultures shaman guide followers through sacred ceremonies involving the ingestion of peyote to lead worshippers on a spiritual awakening of higher consciousness in the same way Morrison led his loyal audiences through a journey so that they may never think the same way again. Opting to skip the hallucinogens and make believers of those weak at heart in the Peoria Javelinas bullpen during the 2011 Arizona Fall League, new San Diego Padre relief pitcher Miles Mikolasturned Lizard King chose to square up on clubhouse dues by accepting the $250 dare bet wagered by fellow players and ingesting a Mountain Dew marinated cold-blooded reptile.
With nearly 10,000 hits on YouTube for his fearless antics in the bullpen, the six-foot-five Mikolas has quite a Alice Cooper cult following outside of baseball. Hoping to tone down his rock star status and keep the fear factor limited to hitters facing him on the mound, Mikolas said: “We were joking around in the bullpen and one thing led to another and there was some money on the line so … you know. I’m a little bit fearless. Even eating a lizard won’t turn me away. Hopefully, I can open their eyes a little bit more.” Although he has enjoyed his notoriety outside of the game for having no fear, the phone rang early Saturday morning at 6 am (Texas League time) to see just how much he could intimidate the slew of armed and dangerous hitters found daily on the Miami Marlins line-up card. Heralded as PadresProspects.com’s #25 prospect and not expected to make his MLB debut until late this season, the 23-year-old San Antonio Mission right-handed reliever received his call up from Double-A ball to the major leagues earlier than expected when Padre closer Huston Street was placed on the 15-day DL. Mikolas couldn’t have picked a more powerful slugger, the Paul Bunyan of professional baseball–Giancarlo Stanton–for his very first batter to face in his MLB debut on May 5, 2012 at PETCO Park.
With his hometown of Jupiter, Florida also being the home of the Marlins’ Spring Training, Miles Mikolas was beyond transcendental pitching against the team he cheered for as a youth. Miles said, “It was a great feeling being out there, especially against a team I grew up rooting for in South Florida as a Marlins fan. To be facing them was neat.” The rookie who had gained Lizard King notoriety for his fear factor ways in the bullpen would shed his skin on the mound in the ninth inning with the Padres trailing 3-1. With the count full on Giancarlo Stanton, the six-foot-five reliever served up a fastball he probably wishes that he could take back. Stanton answered by launching a moonshot off the left field third tier of the Western Metal Supply Company to give the Marlins a comfortable 4-1 lead. Mikolas can take solace in knowing he’s not the only pitcher to give up a home run to the 22-year-old Stanton, who has homered six times in the last nine games and is on pace to become the future all-time MLB home run record holder. “It’s good knowing that he is getting a little bit of everybody,” Miles said. “I’m not the only guy getting singled out.”With the top layer of the epidermis peeled off by Giancarlo’s baptism by fire, Mikolas was stripped to the raw core of his confidence and fought back. The remainder of his MLB debut was nearly textbook minus a walk to Gaby Sanchez. John Buck was shell-shocked staring at Mikolas’ Hammer, the epitome of a sharp-breaking curve, for strike three. Then Marlins starting pitcher Mark Buehrle laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance Sanchez to second. Mikolas ended the inning on a high note by striking out last year’s National League Batting Champion Jose Reyes looking. Miles reflected and said,
“I settled down and made some really good pitches there toward the end. One bad pitch. Right after Stanton hit the home run I was like, ‘Well, you know, there it is. Welcome to the major leagues.'”
Mikolas made his encore appearance pitching in the Padres’ 6-3 loss to the Marlins on Sunday, when he came in relief during the eighth inning and recorded the final out after issuing a walk. Prior to pitching in the Bigs, Mikolas was 1-1 with a 2.92 ERA in Double-A San Antonio. Padre manager Bud Black commented, “This spring, he threw the ball well.
I think that continued on there in San Antonio. Of all the guys that we looked at, he was the guy that our Minor League people said, ‘He’s the guy.'” The San Diego skipper has liked what he has seen so far from the rookie Mikolas. “That’s a big curveball,” Black said. “His challenge will be to get that in the strike zone. It has good rotation. You can combine that with a low-90s, mid-90s fastball. It’s a nice variation. It’s a nice difference of velocity. But the key is getting the breaking pitch in for a strike, because he’s got enough fastball. There’s no doubt about that.” A few weeks ago, Aussie pitcher Hayden Beard–Mikolas’ roommate at Double-A San Antonio–predicted weeks ago that Miles would be the first member of the Mission pitching staff to break into the Bigs. ‘The Big Dog’ Beard said, “I’m stoked for Miles. It couldn’t happen to a better bloke!” After Jupiter High School baseball, Mikolas played through his junior year at Nova Southeastern University (NSU)–where he ranked fourth all-time with 167 career strikeouts and fifth with 32 games started–before being the seventh round pick by San Diego in the 2009 draft. That year he was one of four NSU players drafted, three of whom have now appeared on a Major League 40-man roster–including Mikolas, J.D. Martinez (Astros) and Mike Fiers (Brewers). After converting from a starter to a reliever, Mikolas quickly moved up the Padres system to the Single-A affilate Fort Wayne TinCaps, where he would become a 2010 Midwest League All-Star after striking out 78 batters in 60 appearances.
The Southern Florida native last season split time between the Single-A Advanced Lake Elsinore Storm and the Double-A San Antonio Missions. He went a combined 4-0 with 21 saves and a 1.38 earned run average. Mikolas was dominant on the mound, striking out 69 in 72 innings of relief. Rumor has it that an unnamed Lake Elsinore Storm pitcher was betting everyone he could hit triple digits but could only hit 99 on the radar gun that year. However, the Lizard King of the bullpen has since touched 100 mph with a spike in velocity. The fearless pitcher and part-time shaman will change our way of thinking of the Padres’ winning ways by keeping hitters uneasy and off balance with his unrelentless heat and signature Mikolas Hammer.
After Stanton’s Double-A hitting coach started calling the 6-foot-5, 240-pound right-handed
high school three-sport letterman “Paul Bunyan”,
and later Tampa Bay Ray pitcher David Price coined him “a man-child” during MLB batting practice, it was just a matter of time before Southern California native Mike Stanton would be compared to Harmon Killebrew, Dave Winfield, Mark McGwire, and Bo Jackson. Playing football, basketball and baseball while attending Notre Dame Prep in Sherman Oaks, Stanton was tempted by USC with a football scholarship, but instead was snagged to play professional baseball as a Marlin in the 2nd
round of the 2007 draft. Upon hearing that
Mike Stanton chose baseball, Hall of Famer
Dave Winfield considered the pivotal decision a “potential game changer” and cited that “baseball needed something like this…” Prior to the start of the 2011 season, Terry Francona was asked to identify the MLB’s most improved player and New York Times national baseball writer Tyler Kepner was asked to forecast a MVP candidate; both had Mike Stanton at the top of their lists.
Despite being plagued by injuries in 2011, Stanton did not disappoint with 34 home runs (5th in NL), a .537 slugging percentage (8th in NL), a .893 OPS (12th in NL), 70 BB (13th
in NL), and 87 RBI (18th in NL).
While most fans were mesmerized at the rate of speed of Aroldis Chapman’s fastball, I was focused on the MLB-best 107.4 MPH velocity of home
runs off Stanton’s bat. Like Stanton growing up in Los Angeles, we both sat in the right field bleachers to get
a close-up look at our favorite players: his being Dodger Raul Mondesi and mine being visiting Pirate Roberto Clemente. Born to an African-American/Puerto Rican mother and an Irish father, Stanton’s parents loved the Italian name “Giancarlo”. On November 8, 1989, Giancarlo Cruz Michael Stanton was put on this planet to become baseball’s knight in shining armor. Sharing Italian first names and a common love for the City of Angels, I am proud to have witnessed first-hand the rapid transformation of a San Fernando Valley teenager who has become the modern day Sunshine State’s Paul Bunyan. Destined for South Beach super-stardom, Mike Stanton will soon be sharing sunscreen with local celebs Shakira, Anna Kournikova and Gloria Estefan. Whether it’s lather up or batter up in Miami, the future MLB home run king is here to play!