Here’s an early look at my predictions for the 2012 MLB season. Commissioner Selig has stated he would like to add a 2nd wild-card team from each league as early as this year, making 10 teams eligible for postseason from both the NL/AL. Each of the two wild-card teams would compete in a one-game playoff directly after the conclusion of the regular season, don’t really have an opinion either way if I like the idea or not. Anyway, here is my take on the league shaping up in 2012: NL EAST• Phillies 99-63The Phillies are reloaded and look to dominate the NL east AGAIN, contract issues will be a concern past this year, but this group will be a favorite to contend for the NL East, League Championship & WS Title.• Braves 88-74The pitching staff is young and talented, but the Braves have question marks at SS, LF and bench depth. The bullpen is loaded, but is it logical to believe the relief corps can replicate the success of 2011? Consistenty from Uggla & Chipper; and rebounding years from Prado & Heyward will be essential for any October baseball being played in Atlanta.• Marlins 84-80The Marlins made the big splash in free agency, signing several big-name talented players and welcoming them to Miami’s new stadium in 2012. If this team gets hot early- they could be a threat & force to be dealt with for the entire year, but question marks in the starting rotation and team chemistry will keep from returning to post-season.• Nationals 80-82The Nationals will be one of the top NL contenders…in 2013.• NY Mets 68-94The Mets cleaned house, and it will show early & often this year. NL CENTRAL• Brewers 89-73The loss of Fielder will be felt, but the Brew Crew has enough weapons to capture the NL Central; however- don’t look for them to go very far in the playoffs against the other elite teams of the NL.• Cardinals 82-80The Cardinals staff will keep the team ‘in it’ for a while, but this team will feel the effects of changes for 2012, without the core leadership of La Russa & Pujols.• Reds 79-83Same concerns every year (pitching) have yet to be addressed and Cincinatti will look much the same as they did in 2011. • Cubs 76-86Epstein will have the Cubs contending in a few more years, but too many holes all-around keep the cubs from being much of a factor in the division.• Pirates 70-92The Pirates rarely contend, and they aren’t expected to change that this season.• Astros 54-108The Stros are moving to the AL in 2013…at least they have that to look forward to. NL WEST• Arizona Diamondbacks 94-68The D-Backs will make a lot of noise under the (national media) radar this season, Trevor Cahill & Aaron Hill should make the the D-Backs the team to beat in the NL West. • LA Dodgers 89-73Finished as one of the hottest teams in 2011, but LA is still another year away from the playoffs.• Colorado Rockies 86-76The lineup is solid and full of current/future stars, but will the Rockies pitching staff provide any depth and consistency during the course of the season? Not this year.• San Francisco Giants 83-79The lineup struggles to score runs consistently and most agree it will be another up & down year for San Fran.• San Diego Padres 62-100It seens that the Padres always exceed expectations, but the rebuilding franchise won’t be a threat past the break. AL EAST• New York Yankees 98-64These aging Yankees won’t win 100 games, but they will finish pretty darn close. • Tampa Bay Rays 90-72The Rays can never be counted out, as a team that rarely gets ‘out hustled’ in their division, this group will surely score runs and compete in the AL East (as always) again this year.• Boston Red Sox 87-75The Sox are super-talented, but the team lacks a ‘dominant’ top tier starter, and that along with change/team chemistry issues in the clubhouse could spell another dissapointing year in Boston.• Toronto Blue Jays 74-88The Jays never seem to have any dominant pitching as a unit, and that trend will continue this season.• Baltimore Orioles 61-101It would be hard to argue any reason the Orioles won’t be destined for their 15th consecutive losing season in 2012. AL CENTRAL • Detroit Tigers 100-62The Tigers have a lethal 3-4 combo in the middle of the lineup with Fielder & Cabrera, as well as a dependable starting rotation. This team looks to be one of top contenders in the AL (and beyond) this year.• Minnesota Twins 74-88The M&M Bros, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, have both been unable to stay on the field with any consistency; Minnesota looks to encounter similar problems again this season.• Chicago White Sox 73-89Mark Buehrle, Carlos Quentin & Ozzie Guillen have hit the road. Rookie manager Robin Ventura needs to be a magician, and Adam Dunn must have the comeback year of all-time for the Chi Sox to compete for a wild-card spot.• Cleveland Indians 71-91The franchise is retooling well, but still appears to be mediocre in comparison to other MLB teams this season; Cleveland will more than likely finish somewhere in the middle on the NL in 2012.• Kansas City Royals 65-97The Royals don’t have the pieces in place yet again (shocker) to be much of a factor in 2012. AL WEST• Texas Rangers 101-61The Rangers are solid top to bottom, but will feel pressure from LA in 2012, still- they look to remain the team to beat. • LA Angels 96-66The Angels will likely battle all the way to the wire (with Texas) for the division title; the key additions of Pujols & CJ Wilson will have LA smelling blood to unseat the Rangers as AL West Champs.• Seattle Mariners 68-94Well…the Mariners are in one race (Felix Hernandez/AL CY Young, that is IF he isn’t dealt), and will get a lot of talk on Sportscenter when the Yankees coming calling around the all-star break.• Oakland Athletics 65-97The A’s aren’t exactly playing big-time “Moneyball”, cutting their payroll in half and saying goodbye to 3/5 of their young rotation; that along with fielding an already below-average lineup will have the A’s out of it by June. NL Division Winners: Phillies, Brewers, DiamondbacksNL Wild-Cards: Dodgers, BravesNL Playoffs(WC) Braves over Dodgers(DIV) Braves over Brewers, Phillies over Diamondbacks(NL) Phillies over BravesAL Division Winners: Tigers, Yankees, RangersAL Wild-Cards: Angels, RaysAL Playoffs(WC) Rays over Angels(DIV) Tigers over Rays, Rangers over Yankees(AL) Rangers over Tigers World Series: Rangers over Phillies
Jason Getz / AJC Mission completion. If you’re dedicated you’ll be able to hold the fruits of your labors with pride. Josh Grafton displays a ball with almost all of the Braves players’ autographs, including Mark Teixeira’s. Grafton, a regular autograph collector, needs just two players — John Smoltz and Matt Diaz — to have the entire Braves team’s signatures. “ft’s an all day commitment.” Grafton says. The waft begins. Josh Grafton (left) and Jamie Cooper hang outside the players’ parking lot along the right field foul line of Turner Field two hours before gametime. Cooper is ready with a picture of Tom Glavine for when he sees the pitcher. He plans to give the signed photograph to his brother. Cooper likes this spot because “[Ws] a time to develop a relationship with the guys [players].”
Sometimes its the parents not the kids who provide the comedy, drama and action of youth sports. Here are 20 types of Youth Sports Parents that you will likely find on the sidelines of every youth sports event. Which one are you? Of course you can be more than one. 1) The EMT-Certifed Doctor Parent – This is the mom or dad who calls timeout and runs out on to the field when little Johnny falls and scrapes his knee. Hey EMT parent, the kid is probably crying because he’s embarrassed not hurt. You’ll just embarrass him more by running onto the field. Let the coaches or trainers attend to your “injured” kid. 2) The Papa-razzi – This is the dad who takes 500 digital pictures at each game and then uploads every single image regardless of quality or redundancy onto Flickr. Truth be known, the Papa-razzi wants to punish all parents who don’t care enough to take their own pictures. He secretly wants non-picture taking parents to painstakingly click through all 500 images (mostly of the Papa-razzi’ s kid) to see one shot of their own kid. (Papa-razzi please edit down to the top 2 or 3 images of each kid before you upload.) 3) The Conspirator Parent – This is the perpetually unhappy parent who schemes behind the scenes to overthrow the coach. This parent does not have the time to coach, nope, they are much too busy to coach. They do, however, have plenty of time to talk behind the coach’s back and form alliances. 4) The Overly Optimistic Cheerleader – This is the parent who is perpetually happy and cheering regardless of the situation. This parent yells GOOD TRY! for every mental and physical mistake a kid makes. Listen Overly Optimistic Cheerleader Parent please note that some kids, actually most kids would prefer it if their mistakes were not acknowledged at all, let alone with an empty compliment. 5) The Stats Dad – This is the guy who keeps every stat on every player. The Stat Dad knows how good or bad every player is at every aspect of the game. Parents often seek his knowledge before they approach the coach about playing time. 6) The Snack Nazi – This is the mom who volunteers to prepare and police the snack list. She makes sure that the assigned parent brings healthy snacks for the players and their siblings. Don’t cross the Snack Nazi, she’s union and she’s proud. 7) The Team Mom – She’s the money manager, travel agent, volunteer coordinator, chief fundraiser and website master. Quite frankly, your team sucks if you do not have a good Team Mom, even if your team is undefeated. 8) The Clueless Coach from the Stands Dad – This is the dad who repeatedly instructs his kid on how to do something even though he has no experience in the sport. He’s the one who will wrongly yell “Son, keep your elbow up” while his son is batting. You know him. 9) The Stop, Drop and Roll Parent – This is the parent who drops off his or her kid in the parking lot for practices and games and squeals the tires to leave before their kid has a chance to get their water bottle out of the cup-holder. This is also the parent who shows up late to pick up his or her kid and makes the coach wait / babysit for 15 – 30 extra minutes after each practice. Basically kids are a major inconvenience to this type of Youth Sports Parent. 10) The Hot Mom – This is the mom who wears a push up bra under a toddler size team spirit-wear shirt. She’s the one who sits in the front row of the bleachers and leans forward to show the team dads that she is wearing a thong. Even the Stop, Drop and Roll Dad will sit through a doubleheader when the Hot Mom is in attendance. 11) The Player Agent Dad – This dad only cares about the team if his kid is the captain and the team is winning in the most competitive league. Otherwise, he is working the phones to negotiate a possible trade to another team with a better situation. His prodigy will play on more little league teams before age 11 than Matt Stairs played on during his MLB career. Matt Stairs played on a record 13 MLB teams plus the Chunichi Dragons during his career. 12) The Supply Depot Mom – This is the mom with all the solutions. When Johnny, the star wide receiver, has to go number 2 right before the game and the only option is a port-a-potty without toilet paper, the coach calls on the Supply Depot Mom. He knows that there’s a good chance she’ll have a roll of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. This mom also has a full set of tools to fix equipment, ice packs, hair paint, eye black, an extra score book, pencils, extra sunglasses, a needle and thread, chalk to line the fields, etc. 13) The Roughrider Dad – This is the dad who arrives at the game with a saddle and cowboy boots. He will to ride the ref from wire to wire and go to the whip early and often if he has to. 14) The View Mom – This is the mom who gets to the field early to set up her chair right in the center of the field and saves the spots around her for other cackling moms. She’s not there to see the game, however, she’s there to lead a discussion. People joke that she’s like Barbara Walters hosting The View, but they really aren’t joking. During the game, the View Moms will answer the most pressing questions of the day like; Who’s gonna win Dancing with the Stars?, Does Michelle Obama have any clothes with sleeves?, and Does the Dreamy Doctor Oz do house calls? At the end of the game, however, none of them can answer this simple question, “Mommy, Mommy, Did you see my goal?” 15) Grounds Crew Dad – This is the dad who is the first one to volunteer to prepare the fields for the game. You do not need to thank the Grounds Crew Dad, the opportunity to drive the John Deere is thanks enough. 16) The Spirit Wear Sales Mom – Is this an overly enthusiastic booster or a profit-minded entrepreneur? I’m not sure, but this mom sets up shop in the back of her mini-van and has a full line of spirit wear including shirts, hats, sweatpants, mouse pads and team coffee mugs. And yes, she accepts AMEX. 17) The Overbearing Athletic Mom – This mom has a type A personality, probably played a sport at the D1 collegiate level and is particularly loud during youth sports games. She controls every aspect of her young athlete’s life with an iron fist. Every ounce of food ingested is monitored, every friend is hand selected, every coach scrutinized and manipulated. Unlike the Player Agent Dad, she’s not looking to change teams, she is looking to change the team that her kid is on, change that will benefit her kid. 18) The Nerd Dad – This is the dad who can figure out just about anything except: 1) How he sired an athlete and 2) Why the Overbearing Athletic Mom forced him to marry her. The team with a Nerd Dad will likely have the best team website. 19) The Now You See Them Now You Don’t Parents – These parents go to the games, but keep to themselves and disappear with their kid as soon as the game is over. They never go to the after game parties and typically stay in a separate lower priced hotel during travel tournaments. The other parents couldn’t tell you the names of the Now You See Them Now You Don’t Parents. 20) The High Spirits Dad – This dad never comes to a little league game alone. Nope, this Dad is usually accompanied by Bloody Mary at morning games, 6 or 7 Buds for afternoon games and Johnny Walker or Jack for night games. Sometimes this parent will bring Old Grand Dad for laughs too. He’s the parent in the stands at a little league baseball game who would yell loudly that the pitcher has nothing left. His son on the mound will feel dejected but this Dad was just talking about his pitcher of Margaritas. He drives a well equipped Honda Odyssey Mini-Bar which is perfect for pre and post game tailgating.
Fun Fact of The Day: 2002 (ten years ago when I was in 8th grade) was the first year they started fielding a soccer team at Lumpkin County Middle School. Our first game was at a jamboree similar to the one my team participated in yesterday. In the first few minutes of the game, I tried to send a through-ball to our striker but kicked it too hard and it was headed directly toward the feet of the other teams goal keeper. The keeper accidentally misplayed the ball, and it went through his legs into the goal, which happened to be the first goal in LCMS soccer history. I played center midfield and I think I only scored 3 goals the entire season…pretty funny!
Paul Kocak, author of the future book ‘Baseball’s Starry Night’ asked me a few questions regarding my thoughts on that fateful evening… the last game in 2011 when the Braves blew the wild-card & playoff chances. Here’s The Q&A (it’s written in ‘gibberish’ style ha, so sorry about the grammar): Q: Perhaps a few words on what you do, where you were born, where you live, your age. A: I’m a 24 year old college student and soccer coach/aspiring teacher from Dahlonega, GA. Q: Then the night of 9/28, when the Braves agonizingly lost 4-3 in 13 to allow STL into the postseason. (Maybe some words on days leading up to that; Kimbrel’s approaching fatigue??) Were you there? Where did you watch? Could you sleep afterward? Others in the room? Tears? Rage? Numbness? None of these? Did you follow the other games afterward, the Red Sox and Rays? (A Phils fan who was at that game in ATL said the crowd rooted against the Red Sox so the Braves would not be alone in their collapse.) Stuff like that. A: I will say I have always been a huge Braves fan since I was about 10 years old, the whole 9 yards; spring training every year, 10-30 games (in 2009 I went to 50+ games) in person, every game on TV or the radio… had to listen, big autograph and memorabilia collector, etc. I would describe myself as a die hard, loyal fan- win or lose, but I am without a doubt a HUGE PESSIMIST. (its hard not to be with 13-14 div titles and 1 WS championship…) I am a huge ‘stats’ guy, a number cruncher and so on… So as the days approached and the season got closer to the end, I would always analyze the schedule and try to figure out what exactly we needed to do to get in the playoffs, you could feel the team wearing down, you could see they were in one of the typical season valleys… and it wasnt looking good, nothing was clicking on offense (and the pitching was starting to struggle…I remember thinking on 9/8, when the Braves has a series against the Cardinals in St. Louis, Alright- we have a 7.5 game lead with 18 to play..If we go 7-11 (91-71) and STL goes 14-5 (90-72) we win, theres no way we don’t win 7-8 more games with 12 more against FL, NYM & WAS… the team is in a funk but not bad enough to have the ‘train fall off the tracks’ so to speak. Then we go and lose 7 out of our next 9 ballgames, so i start to look at everything again…we have 14 to play 4.5 game lead, we have this…9/23 Hudson pitches a gutty one against WAS, we have a 3.0 game lead with 5 games to play… its in the bag now, we can breathe easy go out and win another game and its practically over… We lose,I think well the cardinals will lose, they dont…theyll lose…they dont..then 2 games to play 1 game lead, we gotta win 2 we dont.. and then the unthinkable happens…. its over.. Its hard to really describe the feeling, Atlanta really is OWNED by Philly, and its not one of those things that really you start to hate them, because it was a rivalry… because it wasnt, they just beat us.. they arent obnoxious, they dont talk a lot of trash, they just play hard-nosed, good baseball… they arent a team thats easy to just hate like Florida or NYM… and you could start to feel we werent going to win a game, you could literally see it on their faces…then you felt like they were gonna pull a 2010 when they got the lead heading into the 7th, but every pitch and every inning seemed like an hour long, we werent really trying to win, we were just trying not to lose, sort of like when you play your big brother… your know he’s better, you’ve got the lead… but you know hes coming for you, and its scary. the wheels fell off… I really felt numb, a strange feeling, not really rage or anything, you were just feeling well… we dont deserve this… its not meant to be, its just not meant to happen… I had tickets to the game, i chose not to go, I didnt WANT to be there, in all that emotion. I did root for Boston to lose, I didnt want the media to rock the Braves alone… You werent really mad at anyone either, usually you can pin it on a certain play, a certain player, etc.. you couldnt- it was a total group effort, a total group working together to not do anything well, everything was just off… and it had been for a very long time… every run a complete stuggle. Q: Working back to your life, how long a BRAVES fan? How many games a year, if any? How much the team does or does not consume your day. Are you involved with a community of fellow fans, in person, on blogs or Twitter?A: Since age 10, anywhere from 10-30-50 a year, huge autograph hound… I was featured in an AJC article once “how to get an autograph from a brave” – http://jgwb.us/bravesauto The team totally consumes my daily life, haha (good or bad) I follow all the news and talk during the season and just as much during the offseason, fantasy baseball etc. I am fairly well known as a braves source, a lot of people have told me they just check my facebook statuses for braves news instead of reading braves.com or espn… I have my own blog atlantainsight.com and you can see some of my photos from braves games, past/present, memorabilia, etc. at flickr.com/gralton/sets My prized possession is a framed autographed pair of Chipper Jones batting gloves, i caught both of these above the dugout after to seperate braves games (2 diff dates) I remember the first one I got was July 3, 2010. One of the best days of my life….what a moment, i was glowing for a week. Q: Baseball as a kid? Play catch with father? mother? brothers? sisters? First MLB game memory?A: No, soccer… no one in my family is a super fan like me, just box score checkers… my dad took me to my first ball game one day at old fulton co stadium (hes not a big fan of sports) when I was about 8 years old, he actually told me we were going out to eat and suprised me, I fell in love that day with the game, the sounds, the players, the stadium, the food, the total atmosphere… I only went to 1-2 games a year but started watching on TV, one day when my dad was taking me to school he didnt go the right way… he handed me a newspaper that had the spring training schedule on it (i was about 11), he said we are going to florida… pick the games you want to go to, its up to you… I have been a huge baseball fan ever since… through thick and thin… I used to lie and say i was going to the movies, and actually head to the ballpark when i first got my license, sometimes by myself, it never bothered me…just something i truly loved, keeping score, etc. I am an only child btw. Q: What would you tell your grandchildren about the night? someone in China who doesn’t understand baseball? Anything else you want to add. Any encounters any of the BRAVES players in person?A: I wouldn’t personally bring it up again, the past is past.. focus on the good times… even that day wasnt really so bad to me in the big picture, chances are we were prob only going to play 3-4 more games anyway. LOTS AND LOTS of encounters… if you want specifics Ill write again…to many to start on…