Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Release Therapy

            It’s been a little over three months and I still haven’t been able to shake it.
            Whenever the thought pops into my head, I seem to drift away from what’s going on around me and replay the chain of events in my mind.  It used to happen every day.  Fortunately, I have since learned how to get a grip on my thoughts and can hold back from going down ‘Memory Lane.’
            Two years ago, the Pleasant Valley boys’ 8th grade basketball team and I won the first Great Pocono Basketball Tournament championship in school history.  The tournament had been running for 33 years.  To be the first team in PV history to win it was a feeling like no other.  It was indescribable.
            This past year I found out what it was like to lose in the championship game.  It was one of the worst feelings I had ever felt.  I didn’t know I could feel that bad about something.  It was a feeling like no other.  It was also indescribable.
            Those who have never coached of a team would probably never understand.  They wouldn’t know how much it really means to the people involved.  I’m not trying to speak for the 28-year-old coach either.  I’m speaking for the 12 and 13-year-old players.  Some of these ‘kids’ are surprisingly good for their age.  What’s nicer is the fact that they are willing to listen and learn in order to get better while striving to win at the same time.  Plus, when you spend two hours a day with each other for four months, you really do become a team and a family.
            Two years ago we may had been viewed as the underdog against Pocono Mountain West.  We split during the regular season, but our win was at home and it was our first over the Panthers since at least 2007-08.  That didn’t mean we weren’t confident though.  Thankfully, our desire to make history and become the first PV champ propelled us to the title.
            This year we were probably looked at as the favorites heading into the final versus West.  We were 22-0 and had beat teams by an average of 19.5 points-per-game.  Once again we had a goal.  It was to become the first PV 8th grade team (and perhaps only team at any level) to go undefeated throughout the entire season.  As you can tell I liked to find ways to keep the kids motivated.
This time we came up short.  One point short to be exact.  We led the entire game but fell behind with about two minutes to go.  We played the foul game late and managed to have the final possession.  We got the shot we wanted, but missed a floater from about 10 feet at the buzzer.
            So imagine that for a second.  Imagine being undefeated, having already beaten West twice during the regular season, and missing out on your quest for history by one point.  Our first and only loss had come in the championship.
Although I have since tried to focus on the great season we had, at the time it felt as if that one loss trumped all 22 of our wins.  I would have gladly traded ten of those wins for the trophy.
It felt worse than losing the 100-yard dash in kindergarten because I thought my mom called my name and stopped in the middle of the race.  It was worse than losing in the SADD volleyball championship in high school, or shooting an 82 and looking back to see two three-putts and an ‘8.’  It felt worse than all of those combined.  In fact they pale in comparison.
Now, I am not looking for any empathy or pity.  I am writing this so I can get these thoughts off of my chest.  Those of you that know me well know how hard I take losing.  In this case it felt worse because I couldn’t do anything about it.  All I could do was coach from the sideline and hope my players finished the plays.  I couldn’t make a shot or grab a rebound.  I sure as heck trusted my guys to make the plays because my group of starters was certainly talented enough, but at times you feel helpless as a coach when the fate of the game is out of your hands.
Thinking back, I blame myself for two things.  Before the game I told myself that I wasn’t going to let my one big man get in foul trouble.  I wasn’t going to let him pick up enough fouls to where he had to sit for an extended period of time.
As it would be, he picked up two fouls in the first quarter.  West must have had an ‘and-one’ because when I went to sub, its kid missed the free throw and play continued.  Looking back, I should have called timeout right then and there to get my player out of the game.  Instead I let play continue.  And wouldn’t you know that we went down the court and he picked up an offensive foul on the very same possession.
I know it is a tough thing to hold against myself as most coaches probably wouldn’t have called timeout, but a coach who told himself before the game that he wasn’t going to let his kid get in foul trouble might have.  He went on to sit for the entire second quarter.  Six minutes on the bench for one of my best players.  I am 100 percent certain that we could have made up two points if he were in.
Secondly, West was double-teaming my talented point guard on its press.  Most of you won’t know what I am talking about, but I should have changed his position on our press break to allow him to get away from the double team.  It was something I only thought about weeks later.  Had I thought about it at the time we may have been able to do a better job of getting him the ball in space.  I don’t know if it cost us any points, but it sure would have made things easier.
One of my better players also hurt in back in AAU try-outs earlier in the day.  It definitely affected his play, but I am not going to pin the loss on him.  Do I think he could have made up one point if he was 100 percent healthy?  Absolutely.  But we missed our fair share of free-throws and lay-ups throughout the game.
It’s funny to lose by one point and think about all of the things that could have went differently.  How many plays, if reversed, could have made up one point?  A shot here.  A steal there.  A rebound here.  A non-stupid foul there.  It’s crazy to think about.
A few days later, one of my kids asked me if I was still proud of all that we had accomplished as a team.  That was when it kind of hit me.  I had let one loss, albeit an important one, overshadow our season.  I had taken all those wins for granted.
I told him that of course I was still proud of them.  I wasn’t going to let one loss tarnish all that we had done.  I may not have entirely meant it at the time, but I believe it today.  A 22-1 record is something that should be honored.  We got a small trophy for finishing second, but my kids deserved more than that.  So I went out and had a trophy made with all of their names on it.  It now sits in the middle school trophy case next to our championship.  Although we didn’t exactly make the history that we wanted to, I made sure that these kids would go down in history as one of the greatest PV teams ever assembled.  We all put in too much work to justify a small, plastic trophy with no names for people to remember.
Will that one loss haunt me for the rest of my life?  I’m sure it will.  But thanks to Eli’s one question, and time doing some healing, I have come to appreciate my good fortunes as a coach these last two years.  While it may not be for the exact reason I want it to be, I will always remember my 2010-11 team and all that we accomplished together.

The Top Ten Hitters in Major League Baseball

      I recently created a slideshow on Bleacher Report.com of my Top Ten Hitters in Major League Baseball today.
      Rather than copy and paste everything I wrote onto my blog, I figured I would just post the link and let you guys see the entire slideshow yourself.  Plus, commenting may be a little bit easier.
      Here is the link.  Enjoy.

The 10 Best Hitters in Major League Baseball

Friday, June 10, 2011

Shawn McFarland's interview with Jeremy Gigliotti of the San Diego Padres

Gigliotti, formerly of Pleasant Valley High School and East Stroudsburg University, was drafted in the 19th round (593rd overall) by the San Diego Padres in the 2011 Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft. He is the highest pick in school history.

Single Season Records:
- Fewest hits per nine innings (4.6)
- Batting average against (.151)
- Shutouts (3) - tied
- 1.04 ERA was lowest in school history since 1985 (had a .69 ERA heading into final game)

School Career Records:
- Strikeouts (238)
- Starts (39) - tied
- Batting average against (.225) - lowest since 1991

Other Stats:
- 2nd in hits per nine (7.5)
- 2nd in ERA (3.31) - lowest since 1985
- 3rd in wins (18)
- 3rd in shutouts (4)
- 3rd in strikeouts per nine (9.8)
- 4th in innings pitched (217.2)
- T-4th in strikeout to walk ratio (2.3:1)

- Threw a No-Hitter vs. Mansfield on May 9 in a 2-0 win (10K, 2 BB)
- Did not allow a single home run his senior season
- Allowed five or fewer hits in eight of his ten starts, including seven complete games
- PSAC record 27.2 consecutive scoreless inning streak
- PSAC East/Atlantic Region Pitcher of the Year

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Phils Need A Better Horse In The Stable

            I don’t know about most Philadelphia Phillie fans, but I am still not content with the team’s options in the closer role.
            I’m not sure if it is because of the Phillies’ climbing payroll or simply because there is no one else on the market, but so far General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has decided to let his team ride on some questionable arms at the back of its pen.
            We will start at the beginning.  Brad Lidge came into camp as the team’s No. 1 closer.  However, after yet another shoulder problem before the start of the season, he was placed on the disabled list and has been there ever since.  Even when he does come back, can Manager Charlie Manuel really trust him to step right in and get the job done?  From what the recent past has shown, I don’t think he can.
Next the team turned to Jose Contreras - a starter turned reliever who made the switch roughly three years ago.  Contreras did a pretty good job (5-for-5, 0 ERs) in the ninth inning before getting hurt himself.  He has since returned from the injury, but now serves as the team’s set-up man.
Now the Phils are relying on the fastball-changeup (with a ‘new’ cut-fastball) combo of Ryan Madson.  Watching Madson try to close games last year in the absence of Lidge was an adventure to say the least.  He closed out five games while blowing five others, leaving almost everybody to believe that he could never be a full-time closer at the big league level.  Yet here he is in 2011 with a perfect 13-for-13 line.  How long that will last is anyone’s guess.
At the start of the season, even Amaro and pitching coach Rich Dubee didn’t think Madson was the right one for the job.  Amaro was quoted as saying, “There's no question that we think that Ryan is a great fit for us, but Ryan has not proven to us he can be a closer in the major leagues.  Can that happen?  That's possible.  Can we necessarily rely on him?  I don't think so.”  Dubee's words about Madson were even a little more blunt.  “Ryan Madson is Ryan Madson.  What did he do, take a crash course in how to close or something?”  Those quotes don’t really exude confidence if you ask me.
As one can see, none of these options are really the one a team wants to be putting its World Series aspirations on.  Sure Lidge had a magical run in 2008, but that is long in the past.  Plus, if a pitcher can’t go more than two weeks without experiencing shoulder or elbow soreness then what good is he?  Unless something short of a miracle happens, he obviously won’t be the most reliable option come the post-season when every game is a must-win.
I don’t believe that Contreras and Madson are the answer either.  Both can be tremendous set-up men, but neither has the stuff to be a lock-down closer.  Contreras can be rather wild at times and is known to put guys on base via walks.  Madson relies too heavily on two pitches.  No one since Eric Gagne has survived in the closer’s role with just a fastball and a changeup.  Now-a-days a closer tends to need a mid-90s fastball along with a late-breaking cutter or a sharp, diving breaking-ball.
My advice to the Phillies’ management can be summed up in two words.  Heath Bell.  Bell has blown just one save in 17 chances so far this year and has struck out 21 batters in 25 innings.  Furthermore, he has blown just nine save opportunities in the last three years and six of those blow-ups came in 2009.  In that same time period, Lidge has blown 16 saves (11 in 2009) while Madson has blown 11.
The Padres are quickly fading and should become sellers in a month or two.  The Phils should do whatever it takes to land Bell.  I mean they have already pretty much mortgaged the future for the present with their recent acquisitions of pitchers Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt – all of whom are over the age of 32.  The core of the team in Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins are all over 31 as well.  From the looks of things, this group only has about two or three years left to make some serious runs at a title.  Other than lacking a powerful right-handed batter (Thanks Jayson Werth.  Enjoy your $126M while winning 65 games a year), why not take care of your only weakness while you still have all of the other pieces in place.
Philadelphia can’t rely on its four main starters to throw complete games come the post-season, especially if some of them will be needed on short rest in a tight series.  If the Phils don’t make a move for a stud closer before the deadline, the door may get shut on their championship hopes.