Video courtesy of Traci Rubin
Staten Island, NY - Summer is in full swing and none of us regular people are looking to gain weight for beach season.
We don't play baseball though. A few extra pounds on the frame can make a lot of difference for a player, especially a young one trying to keep up with his first professional season.
For Matt Snyder, the Yankees 2012 10th round pick out of Ole Miss, the season has been a successful one in a number of areas. In 31 games he's hit .315 knocking in 24 runs and drawing 16 walks. In June he received a NYPL Player of the Week honor. He has a .512 OBP in July with five multi-hit games in ten played.
"I've been trying to gain a lot more weight. Eating more and drinking a lot more water," said Snyder. "I'm working with our weight coach a lot. Last summer I weight 222 and I'm like 208 right now, so I need to get that back."
Synder,22, has spent the season working closely with Staten Island hitting coach Ty 'Hawk' Hawkins, correcting his approach at the plate, and, at the same time, Snyder has been learning to deal with the daily work that can take it's toll.
"Getting to the field so early and all the stuff we have to do before the game," he said, when asked what's been most difficult adjusting to.
As for the swing, he's needed to take care not to develop a bad habit. Hawkins has worked with the first baseman on not lunging at the ball.
There were some nerves contributing to his discomfort when the season began. If he was pressing, it was due to that classic desire to prove something, worried about making an early impression. That's not troubling him now.
"I'm more comfortable and relaxed. I know what to expect now. I was on the tip of my toes worrying about everything."
Here is where he wants to be. Not in Staten Island forever, of course, but in the Yankee pinstripes. This is the dream unfolding. The reality almost renders him speechless as he sputtered to explain the meaning of the Yankees in his own life.
"I can't possibly put into words how special it is to be on the Yankees. Ever since I was little I've been a Yankees fan. My dad and my grandparents and my uncle always talked about the Yankees, so I grew up a Yankees fan. If you have a tough day and go out there and don't hit, after the game you're upset. Then you realize you're still a Yankee. And that's something to hang your hat on."
Read my continued coverage of the Staten Island Yankees for Gotham Baseball Magazine.
In 2008, I was working for a Massachusetts newspaper covering an independent baseball team.
Following game three of a frustrating series for the team, I headed to the clubhouse with one of my male colleagues. The starting pitcher who’d been dealt his first loss of the season after a victorious first half, stood at his locker and told me to get out. He later physically blocked me from re-entering.
It was a watershed moment in my life and proved to be a turning point. I’ve spoken a bit about this publicly, though I’ve never felt comfortable bashing anyone involved, including the player. It was that moment that provided me a question: how tough are you and how bad do you want to do this with your life?
The answer was emphatic. I contacted the AWSM and the commisioner of the league. The result was that an equal access policy was implemented at the conclusion of the GM’s meetings during spring training.
I never imagined I would face that again. And certainly not in the world of minor league baseball that I've covered almost exclusively for eight years, outside of fall high school sports when I had the benefit of phoning it in with coaches.
I'll begin at the end like so many movies and books have: the issue has been resolved.
But the question for me is, is this still going on and why did this happen in 2012?
After a day game I’d quickly run on the field at Ricnmond County Ballpark and got the interviews I needed. As I was leaving two female reporters were standing in the dugout. I didn’t notice any male reporters there, but didn’t think twice about it. I left and returned the next day for a regular night game. After a fifteen-inning marathon of a game that the Yankees lost by one run, I met up with three of my colleagues, two in the media, one an employee of the team to see if we were going to try to speak with Staten Island manager Justin Pope. After some discussion we decided to head down and find out if he was available.
I was then told I would have to wait in the hall while they went in to talk to Justin. I asked why.
"Women are not allowed in the clubhouse," the team employee answered.
I don’t remember the first words out of my mouth. I couldn’t tell you what I said for the next five minutes that I argued with his explanation. I just remember the faces and reactions of the three gentlemen. There was agreement with my anger and reasoning, helplessness, some obvious and understandble discomfort, and, from the employee, his own mix of helplessness and steadfastness. This, he said, is what he was told. He couldn't go against the orders given to him and no one could blame him. I didn't and still don't.
I was then told it was in the media guidelines. I knew for damn sure it wasn’t, but, this I remember. I asked to see the guidelines in writing. We went to the empty office and we skimmed through the guidelines. Of course, there was nothing stating women weren’t allowed.
We headed down to speak to the manager, carefully avoiding the clubhouse, but all of us getting what we needed.
The conversation continued after the incident, but with no resolution. That night I stayed up until four in the morning writing an e-mail to MiLB president Pat O’Conner and MiLB VP Tina Gust. I forwarded it to the Staten Island Yankees GM. Jane Rogers. I was positive that her reaction, and that of O’Conner and Gust, who I’d come to know professionally and highly respect, would be similar to mine.
I was correct. I received an early morning e-mail from Steve Densa saying he’d spoken to Jane Rogers, who was upset and apologetic. According to him, she was also insistent that I was given incorrect information. She told him she wanted my phone number to speak directly to me.
The next day, I spoke to the warm and wonderful Jane Rogers and she could not have been more professional, supportive, and also firecely adamant that no such policy existed.
When I arrived a couple of days later at MCU Park, to cover a game between the home team Brooklyn Cyclones and the Yankees, SI Yankees manager Justin Pope approached me. Justin is someone I’ve known from covering the Trenton Thunder, the Double-A affiliate of the Yankees, where he played and coached. He knows the Yankees organization inside and out. I never for one second thought that the policy was coming from him. He told me how sorry he was and that, again, there was no policy stating that. He was angered (quietly, as is his disposition) that anyone would give me that information and told me to come to him if there was ever any problem. He repeated those sentiments again post-game.
The following day I returned to Richmond County Ballpark and the employee that told me no women were allowed in the clubhouse apologized several times. He was doing his job. I knew that. He’d done the right that night and then by coming to me after the storm settled.
Post-game I was granted access to the clubhouse along with all of my male colleagues. I marched down that hall with just a little bit of cockiness in my step. This was my job and my rights weren’t going to be questioned. I later thought about the women before me who’d be proud I never backed down.
But after I went home it dawned on me. How could this have happened now?
In my time covering the minors and majors in print and online media, I’ve had the benefit of women being everywhere I’ve gone. It didn’t have to occur to me that I didn’t belong, because our well-documented history and their presence let me know I did.
But, truthfully, in the minor leagues, in the media, there are few of us entering the clubhouse. I can’t recall one female reporter entering the clubhouses of the Eastern League or International League or South Atlantic League and certainly not in independent baseball. No, not for a few years, though I knew they existed somewhere. Part of the problem might be that there aren't enough of us. If the front office of every minor league and independent league team saw more of us, they'd be forced to deal with the reality. And not in an underhanded way that possibly no one is being made aware of.
How did this happen now? Why are we having to ask this question and have this discussion in 2012?
It doesn’t matter, does it? It doesn’t matter if there’s seven thousand of us or just me or her or any other woman. We belong there and there should be no argument about that. I shouldn’t have to stand in the quiet of the press box after fifteen innings, wanting to get the story I came for, and argue with colleagues about a non-existent policy.
The question is who and for how long?
Who continues to have the attitude that we don’t belong, who is approving it, and how many times has this happened before I spoke up? In considering these questions, I thought back to all of my experiences in the minors that compared to that. I kept saying it never happened before that.
I was wrong.
I realized that early in my career there were plenty of times I came on assignment and was kept in the hall while male reporters scattered into the clubhouse area. I was asked to wait in the dugout many times, after being told, ‘Let me go get him.’ I never questioned that order.
Post-game is a different animal, and perhaps I wouldn’t have been kept out those times if I’d entered the area with my male colleagues to join the typical interview session with the manager. But pre-game is when we get plenty of our work done. Most writers need that time with players and coaches. Had I been less timid, more experienced, I would've spoken up.
After nearly four years of regularly covering the Eastern League beat for Baseball Digest, Gotham Baseball, Pinstripes Plus, and a number of newspapers, I’ve been plenty seasoned. It was my consistent coverage of the Trenton Thunder, and working out of their home base of Waterfront Park, that gave me the daily experience of covering the minor leagues. One year on the daily beat in the Can-Am League wasn’t exactly the same.
It was with a Yankees team that I earned my stripes (no pun intended) and learned that women in the media were given equal treatment and respect. That was never an issue. When an issue arose with players, I found myself immediately supported. When Thunder manager Tony Franklin was informed I’d been humiliated in the clubhouse (an incident I won’t go into detail about), he called a meeting with his players and what he later told me he said to them inspired my courage and confidence to grow. It is within the Yankees organization I got tougher. I felt proud of the standard they upheld, as I did about every other team that followed the rules that were, frankly, a federal law.
When I sensed resistance from any team’s PR to allow me access, I trampled right over that notion as if I hadn’t caught on to what he (always) was driving at. I realized that if you peeled away the layer of legal rights, many men in this industry still believe we don’t belong.
In MLB, access isn’t an issue. It shouldn’t be an issue in the minors, a direct extension of the big league club. This recent experience sounded all the alarms. Is this going on anywhere else in the minors and if it is, what’s the excuse?
The Yankees, and every other major league team must enforce that there is no policy but an equal one. They must set the tone at every level. They're not just developing players, but men. If they believe we deserve to be treated with any less respect, they will follow that lead.
The day I was in celebration of the Southern League naming the first female league president in MiLB history, I was filled with conflict. I wanted to cheer and not be the bearer of bad news. We’re supposed to say that everything has changed. We’re supposed to say there are no issues so passe as a woman being told she doesn't have equal access in sports.
That day taught me that, sometimes, we still have to fight.
As one male colleague said, "That should never have happened."
It cannot happen again.
Coverage of the NYPL will continue for Baseball Digest/Going Nine and Bus Leagues Baseball. Read my continuing coverage of the Staten Island Yankees and Brooklyn Cyclones at Gotham Baseball Magazine.
Brooklyn - Tension, excited hope, disapointed exaltation, wasted opportunities, exhaustion, frustration, finally, one hit, one run and we can all go home.
It is a ballgame the players in Thursday night's matchup between the Brooklyn Cyclones and Staten Island Yankees could have won or lost a lot of different ways.
That's no new kind of story. But these aren't seasoned vets. These aren't even seasoned Double-A ballers. These are your hungriest. Most of them in their first year of professional baseball, untamed, unadjusted, but you can see, already, the ones that are quickly adjusting. They ease into the challenge, not without difficulty, but with a clear kind of focus and drive that guys that have been playing baseball all their lives always seem to have.
Thursday night's game that was on display in every inning, every pitch, every botched ball, gutsy play, solid hit and fruitless swing.
Gabriel Ynoa was on the hill for the Cyclones. He opposed the Yankees Andrew Benak. Both righties have had a measure of success with a good dose of failure. The Cyclones have come ahead in the race, with a 19-11 record, while Staten Island has gone the opposite direction, going 12-18.
Ynoa entered the game 1-1 with a 3.30 ERA. Benak came in a bit more bruised with a 5.09 ERA. Despite those numbers both pitchers showed early what they're capable of. The hits did not come, walks were not issued. Not for awhile anyway. Fifteen innings. Clean. The game was won, of course, in the bullpen.
When DH Saxon Butler, the New York Penn League RBI & home run leader, was stopped at third in the 14th after catcher Peter O'Brien singled, that felt like it had to be it. Butler could've been waved home, but Staten Island manager Justin Pope chose to hold him. He explained, post-game, that Matt Snyder was hitting hot. Pope, a first year manager, had to go with his gut. He believed Snyder would get that run home. It's that instinct every manager has to trust. Regardless of the outcome. Pope, like his players, is in the learning stages, too. But that's lesson one. No manager can second guess himself or his players once he's made a strategic decision.
There was no result in that inning, other than Snyder flying out to Mets big name prospect Brandon Nimmo.
Late into the night and diehard fans were shouting, making the game feel a lot more meaningful. The emotions were heightened.
Shaky defense showed up a bit. A few plays were misread. But it didn't lead to disaster.
The ending, for all that dramatic, grueling journey, was quiet and simple.
In the 15th, the Cyclones finally put together an inning that produced a singular result: Dimas Ponce doubled, Jonathan Clark singled, Ponce advanced to third, Richie Rodriguez with a sac-fly, Ponce scored. Staten Island could not make a threat a promise and Tyler Vanderheiden got his sixth save of the season.
Cyclones manager Rich Donnely summed it up.
"Pitching, pitching, pitching," he said on the field as his victorious players filed off the field.
It is a small game in the big picture of their careers, but in their short careers, that game felt big. At least for four hours and twelve minutes.
Reports filed Brooklyn, Staten Island - The New York Penn League affiliates of the Mets and Yankees are playing through the heat wave and in two games this week, both teams showcased their best assets and their inevitable weaknesses. These are guys, many of them, in their first professional season of baseball. Time is testing them, not to mention the new daily grind, and the heat, well, that's not helping.
Here's some notes from two contests.
Hudson Valley Renegades at Brooklyn Cyclones, July 17th
Righty Julian Hilario (0-1, 2.61) took the mound for the Cyclones, going against righty Jesse Hahn (0-2, 6.57). HIlario was aggressive, keeping the pitches on the low side in the first inning, and working calmly through a jam with runners on. He'd begun to look shaky once guys got on, but after a conference on the mound, he came back to fire three straight strikes to get the next batter and make it two outs, eventually getting out of the inning with a fly-out.
Hudson Valley's Hahn's velocity was steadily around 92-93, topping out around 94. He looks like he still needs to put a few pounds on and is still growing into his body. He throws hard, but location was a problem at times. If he can command the fastball in the zone more consistently, as he did throughout his start, he'll move much quicker through the system.
Renegades catcher Luke Maile hit his first professional home run.
Eduar Quilonez got the win. Hilario took the loss in the 4-1 HV victory.
Aberdeen IronBirds at Staten Island Yankees, July 18th
Saxon Butler continues to prove himself, with two singles in Wednesday's game the first baseman now has 33 hits on the season.
A close game to the end, with Aberdeen's Sebastian Vader (0-4, 6.92) and SI's Tim Flight (1-2, 5.85) keeping things interesting. Vader's off-speed offerings were effective for the most part, showing a curveball that he threw for strikes. His fastball hovered around 87-89, but his location was an issue at times.
Flight was good when he kept the ball down and allowed his defense to work for him. He let hitters make contact and got a good helping of groundball outs. But he started to get a bit wild and walked guys later in the game. After allowing the IronBirds to make it 3-2 in the 5th, he got two straight strikeouts to end a difficult inning.
The Yankees bullpen did a fine job with the one-run lead. With both James Pazos and Taylor Garrison working quickly to hold the lead for a final of 3-2. Pazos struck out three batters in his two innings of work. Flight got the win and Garrison notched his third save.
Staten Island Yankees manager Justin Pope
"They've got to throw strikes. They've got to pound the strikezone. Don't be afraid to pitch away from contact. Don't try to strike everybody out."
"They've done a really good job of coming in the next day and kind of forgetting the night before."
"We talked to them about right now, the most important part of your day from 2-6 is to get your work in. And hitters get their work in the cage. Pitchers get their side stuff in."
"I'm not feeling as good as I was a couple of weeks ago, but the season's a grind. It's already about half way through. I feel mentally tough up there. I'm chasing a little bit, but it'll work itself out. I'm just trying to get quality at-bats."
"There's some pitches I overswing at. Pitches I should drive and I swing and miss it. I have to work on that."
Through the first twenty games three players have played with consistent excellence.
Here are the three chosen through July 11th.
Saxon Butler, first baseman, Staten Island Yankees - With his sixth home run earlier this week, he took the lead in the league. He's tied for most RBI, 18, with Williamsport Crosscutters Chris Serritella. Their 54 total bases is also tied for league highest. He leads the league by a stretch with a stellar .750 SLG percentage. He's also 4th in doubles (9) and 5th in OBP (.422).
Andrew Aplin, outfielder, Tri-City ValleyCats (Houston Astros) - Aplin 13 stolen bases lead the league and have certainly made a difference to overall team performance (their .386 OBP is second in the league). His .386 batting average is also the league's best.
Juri Perez, right-handed pitcher, Tri-City ValleyCats - His league leading 0.76 ERA is as impressive as the 23 innings under his belt. He's pitched deep into games. On July 3rd he gave his team a solid scoreless seven-inning performance. He allowed just five hits, walking two, and struck out a season-high six batters. Against righties he has a 0.63 ERA. He's not yet notched a win - or a loss.
For the end of July, and with a larger sample, there will be five players selected.
Williamsport Crosscutters, the Phillies New York Penn League affiliate, pitching coach Aaron Fultz spoke about his pitchers, where there at 20 games into the season, and how much more they need to learn.
Well, the thing about this league, and, again, I'm a first year coach so I'm learning too, is that there's going to be a lot of bumps and bruises along the way. We've had some guys show flashes of brilliance, so to speak. But we're also second or third in the league in walks [NOTE: They are second with 101]. So we're obviously not getting the ball over the plate enough.
Josh Warner is obviously doing a great job.
Ulises Joaquin who is out right now, he's had some glimpses of good stuff.
Jordan Guth is doing really well. He's a college guy and he's starting. He's throwing strikes with four pitches. So he's aggressive.
Jon Musser has been struggling with a number of things: tempo, command, confidence. But he's on the track back. He's been working. I think he's getting close.
Delvin Perez is more about confidence. He's got really good stuff and has a really good chance, he just needs a little more experience to believe in himself.
Geoff Broussard has been great.
Matt Sisto's numbers aren't very good, but he throws strikes and is aggressive. Same thing with Nic Hanson. [Note: Hanson has also spot-started]. They're good just not overpowering. They can pitch and I really like that.
Jeb Stefan and Zach Cooper both throw hard.
Steven Inch [NOTE: Was suspended through July 8th] he's been reallly good at times and scuffled other times.
Andre Kendrick has been a good surprise. I had him all of extended spring training and he's thrown the ball really well except for one outing. He walked a few, but still did really well.
Jim Birmingham got hurt and had been scuffling before that.
NYPL slowing game down: That's the one thing I notice when I go out to talk to some of the pitchers. When you take a breath and slow it down and relax and try to say something offbeat like I like to do, whether it be something stupid or whatever. It's just to get them to breathe. That's the big plus. Once you learn how to [slow the game down] it makes a difference.
Anything hard to communicate? I don't know if there's anything that's hard to communicate. It's hard to get them to listen. A lot of it comes down to experience. I played a long time, so I have that. They'll get it eventually. A lot of times you have to learn by trial and error and go through it in yourself instead of listening. It's not an easy game. They're all curious and ask questions which I like. Hopefully that will be a positive.
Read my continuing coverage of the New York Penn League for Going Nine/Baseball Digest, Gotham Baseball, and Bus Leagues Baseball.
Brooklyn, New York - So far for Mets pitching prospect Tyler Vanderheiden, the minor league experience has been a lot of zeros.
A 0.00 ERA and zero time to worry about obstacles he might face.
"Surprisingly what's helping me the most is struggling my freshman and sophomore years," said the twenty-two year old before a game. "Those were probably the worst two years of my life. I never thought about quitting. I grew up with the mindset that if you're going to start something, you finish it. Those struggles those two years helped me tackle pretty much anything."
The righty was selected out of Stamford University in the 19th round, and was assigned to the Class-A (short season) Brooklyn Cyclones. He's pitched 7 innings over 7 games, giving up just 6 hits and 2 walks in relief. He's also collected four saves.
Here's the rest of what he said earlier this week:
Professional debut: On an experience level it is big, but also the league itself is a lot of college players and then the really good high school players. So in that sense I'm playing against a couple of guys that I played with in college. [less intimidating] just because I know that I'm probably one of the older guys in the league. Mentally the experience I've had against them helps more than you can imagine.
Learning most: I'm trying to not make the same mistake twice. When I got out there I learn something different everyday. If I don't go out there and learn something, then I'm not getting the best I can out of each outing.
Hardest of all: Playing everyday. In college you pick up a baseball everyday, but in high school I didn't pick up baseballs everyday. The transition from high school to college is playing everyday. And then coming here and playing everyday and the practices being two three hours before game time.
Draft Day: It is [nerve-racking] just because you know if your name isn't called, you're in the real world and you know baseball is pretty much over unless you want to take a different path. That's the path some people are given. Some people aren't drafted and they still make it to the majors. I knew that if I didn't get drafted that I was going to try and play somewhere else, or maybe try to get picked up in free agency. I'm happy I was drafted and didn't have to go that route. I got a call the second day and thought maybe I was going to get selected higher than expected. I had a number in my head where I wanted to get drafted, anything past that I was going to start really worrying. And then it was just a relief.
Draft Attitude: I knew I wasn't the best guy out there, but I didn't think I was the worst guy. But my junior and senior year went better than expected, so that definitely helped. The person I talk to more is [pitching coordinator] Ron Romanick, not taking anything away from Val [pitching coach Mark Valdes], Ron just works with more sidearmers. Val is in on the gameplan, he knows when I'm doing something wrong, he can come up to me and help me. But one on one, like for today Ron's here and Valdes is not, so we got together and really worked on some mechanical stuff and some secondary pitching stuff. He's helped a lot of sidearmers and submarine pitchers. He knows a lot about it.
Looking Ahead, Juuust a bit: I just want to have a confident secondary pitch. Fastball command is a must. You have to have it. The biggest thing is they have to know you can throw a fastball, but you have to be able to show something else or they're going to sit on the fastball. And it's not going to be pretty.
Coverage of the Cyclones will continue all season for Gotham Baseball Magazine