May 2008

Pittsburgh… of the South, Part Deux

Well, still in Birmingham. I haven’t spent this many consecutive days in Alabama since I left Auburn almost fifteen years ago.

The SEC Tourney wrapped up Sunday with LSU downing Ole Miss to take the crown. Our main feature subject, Mr. Pedro Alvarez and his Vanderbilt Commodores, were bumped from the tournament on Saturday night. They had defeated the Ole Miss Rebels in the first game of what turned out to be a triple-header (the pair of Vandy-Ole Miss tilts sandwiching a game between LSU & Alabama; LSU won that middle game to advance to the Final, much to the consternation of the swarm of Crimson Tide fans in attendance and to the relief of many of the media members who didn’t want to stick around for a quadruple-header).

We entered the park Saturday morning at around, oh, 9:30 am or so, having just eaten breakfast back at the hotel. Greeting us at the gate were a group of young ladies wearing Chick-Fil-A t-shirts, giving away free chicken strips and coupons. Naturally, I took a free chicken strip, adhering to my policy of “If it’s free, it’s me.” Jonathan looked at me like I was crazy, but hey, free chicken is free chicken. And yeah, despite being full of eggs & sausage, I ate that sucker when we got to the press box.

The media gift for the tourney was kind of interesting. It was a bag, and a pretty flimsy one at that. Jonathan’s take was “What am I gonna do with this?” But we both took ’em anyway. Maybe I’ll let my kids store their crayons in it or something. Last year’s gift, an SEC business card holder, ended up being my daughter’s money holder for her school lunch (until we got her something a little more appropriate for a 7-year-old girl).

The SEC feature turned out pretty well, so be sure to check it out during the MLB.com Draft Preview show on June 2nd.

Lisa arrived Sunday afternoon and Jonathan headed back to that Pittsburgh of the North (you know… Pittsburgh) on Monday morning. So I swapped my college feature hat for my more regular minor league feature hat.

With Clayton Kershaw now a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the target for our feature shifted to Ivan DeJesus Jr., the promising 21-year-old shortstop who became the youngest player on his team when the 20-year-old Kershaw got his call-up. Monday was interview day, as we talked to Ivan, his manager John Shoemaker and pitcher James McDonald (that’ll be a seperate video piece). Look for the feature on Ivan and the JMac interview sometime next week on milb.com or dodgers.com.

I would’ve shot some b-roll of Ivan yesterday (Monday), except that I had a dead hard drive on my hands and needed to get that SEC Tournament feature sent back to the NY office, so it was off to Best Buy for a replacement drive instead of sticking around for the game. If it hadn’t been a holiday, the store would’ve stayed open later and I might have been able to get a couple of at-bats from DeJesus. Oh well, it wasn’t meant to be.

But we’re back here at Regions Park for Day Five of my “Birmingham Bonanza” and if it stops raining, we’ll be in business. Not too long ago it was pouring, but it’s been gradually slackening, giving me hope that we’ll start on time.

Pittsburgh… of the South

This week’s trip was a dual purpose jaunt to the “Pittsburgh of the South” – Birmingham, Alabama. Birmingham earned that moniker as the top steel city south of the Mason-Dixon Line, home of the mighty Sloss Steel Works. Funny thing is, Jonathan, who’s here with me, lives in the Pittsburgh of the North… that’d be, um, Pittsburgh.

The dual purposes of our trip? First and foremost is the SEC Tournament to put together a feature on the conference which provided last year’s top pick (David Price) and has a guy who is probably going to go in the top 2 or 3 this year (Pedro Alvarez – also a Vanderbilt guy). The other purpose was to do something on Jacksonville pitcher Clayton Kershaw. Unfortunately (for us, but definitely not for him), it looks like Mr. Kershaw will be making his next appearance in a Dodgers’ game, so we’ll adjust our target accordingly.

The SEC is near and dear to my heart as an Auburn alum. Alas, the Tigers were not good enough to make the tourney either last year (when we were here to do a feature on Price – among others) or this year. Hope springs eternal, though. I’d be curious to see what the turnout would be like were Auburn to make an appearance. Throngs of Alabama fans show up (Tuscaloosa’s less than an hour away) and though Auburn’s farther away, I’m sure a good crowd would show up in blue & orange to yell “War Eagle!” and root the boys on. My days down on the Plains were just after the glory days of Bo Jackson, Gregg Olson and Frank Thomas. Seems like it was a long time ago (and I guess it was).

sec_sign.jpgObviously, the baseball’s pretty darn good in the Southeastern Conference. They have the backs of the dugouts pasted with a sign reading “The Best College Baseball in the Country” – a sentiment that’d definitely be opposed by a couple of other conferences’ adherents. Here at Regions Park though, you’d be hard pressed to find a dissenting vote.

alvarez.jpgAs for Alvarez, he hit a bomb yesterday in Vandy’s win over South Carolina, then made a nice defensive play and almost started a triple play today against Ole Miss, showing he can play both sides of the ball. So yeah; he’s the goods and will make whichever club drafts him on June 5th very happy indeed.

I’ll have more on the action here at Regions Park soon.

First Take

Greetings fellow baseball fans. My name’s Joe Cronin and though you almost definitely have never heard of me, chances are good that if you’ve watched video on MLB.com over the past seven-plus years you’ve seen some of my work.

First off, I have to admit that I’ve got a pretty cool gig for a guy who’s been a lifelong fan of the game. I get to travel the country, see lots of baseball, interact with players and create video features for all you baseball fans out there. There is a downside… all that traveling means I’m away from my wife & kids a whole lot between late February and early November.

The plan for “Behind the Lens” is to share my experiences on the road, how we go about putting together the video pieces you see on MLB.com and frankly, anything else that might strike my fancy (just being honest here). I travel with Jonathan Mayo & Lisa Winston a lot, so you might see their names appearing here. If you haven’t read their blogs, check out B3 (that’s Jonathan) and got milb? (that’s Lisa, who even has that phrase on her license plates).

So far this season (and without counting my annual trip to Spring Training), I’ve been to Syracuse for Opening Day (with Lisa); Northwest Arkansas, Tulsa and Allentown (Jonathan) – that was a doozy of a trip, but both those new ballparks are sweet; Carolina to see Cameron Maybin (Lisa again); Akron (that was a solo trip, it’s local for me); and Lynchburg & Charlottesville (Jonathan).

I’m writing this from my hotel room in Syracuse. Lisa & I traveled here to upstate New York to take in the Cooperstown Classic between the Chiefs & Rochester Red Wings. The Classic was celebrating the 125th anniversary of the International League. Of course, it rained so much that the teams couldn’t complete two full innings before the game was suspended. They didn’t even wait the requisite 45 minutes mandated by league rules. I guess that’s a benefit of having IL President Randy Mobley in attendance. So much for the feature…

fisk_1stpitch.jpgHall-of-Famer Carlton Fisk was on hand to toss out the first pitch (which turned out to be one of the very few pitches actually thrown). Note a couple of things about the pic to the left: the mound is still covered with a tarp (it was raining pretty hard); and what’s with the guy with the red shirt in the bleachers? You’ve got to be extremely devoted (or twisted) to sit way out there in the pouring rain. There was a decent crowd, but I don’t recall seeing anyone else out there during the game.

Our other mission: a feature on Kevin Mulvey and Phil Humber, two of the four players shipped by the Mets to Minnesota in the Johan Santana deal. Together with Francisco Liriano and Brian Duensing, they give the Red Wings a very nice rotation.

mulvey.jpgMulvey started the Classic, so I got a whole five outs’ worth of b-roll out of him before the umpires accepted that Mother Nature was not going to cooperate. (B-Roll is a word you’re going to see frequently here; for those unfamiliar with vid-speak, b-roll is essentially video which isn’t interview or talking head – that’s called a-roll, but no one actually says a-roll. Footage of Mulvey pitching qualifies as b-roll).

humber.jpgHumber threw a side session this afternoon in a decidedly cold and damp Alliance Bank Stadium here in the ‘Cuse, so I got my Humber b-roll there. Lisa interviewed both players and though they’ve probably been asked five million times about Johan Santana and the Mets, they were good sports. Look for the feature later this week, or maybe early next week.

A side note: Mulvey’s a fellow Jersey guy. We talked about Jersey back in Spring Training when we interviewed him for our MiLB season preview. Seth Everett was the talent on that shoot – he’s from Jersey too. We Garden Staters stick together. If you can name all the places shown in the opening sequence of “The Sopranos,” you’re a true Jersey guy (or gal). Even though I live in Ohio now (the wife’s from there), I’ll always consider New Jersey to be “home.”

That’s going to be it for now. I’m still new to this blogging thing, so bear with me while I go through my growing pains.