Saturday, December 31, 2011

Legend of Sam Fuld started here:

Spent the day at my alma mater, the University of New Hampshire, and found this pic of Durham, N.H., native Sam Fuld from 1992. The "Legend of Sam Fuld" began when he was a 10-year-old bat boy, raking with the Wildcats.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Looking back at 2011

Today we're reflecting on the 2011 baseball season, a year of the mustache (Sal Fasano), the masher (Jose Bautista) and the misfits (Toronto's bullpen). Did you know the Blue Jays had the worst save percentage in the AL? The 'pen blew 25 of 58 save opportunities, including a fivespot from Jon Rauch. 

At Double-A, the Fisher Cats welcomed Fasano, whose team posted a 77-65 record and proceeded to beat Reading and Richmond in the postseason. Fasano's first Double-A victory went down in history, filed under bizarre and unbelievable. NH and Trenton, after combining for 13 errors in two games, kept fans guessing when switch-hitter John Tolisano faced switch-pitcher Pat Venditte with the game on the line. Tolisano, batting right-handed, jumped on Venditte's lefty fastball and nearly homered to left field for an 8-7 walk-off win. Venditte threw both left-handed and right-handed in the ninth inning. Switch-hitting Mike McDade doubled and scored the winning run.

Fear the 'Stache. All Sal Fasano does is win championships in Double-A.
"You might want to look that one up," Fasano said. "I remember Greg Harris for Boston could pitch with both hands, but I don't know if he ever won or lost a game against a switch-hitter. That's quite a story."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tony Plush wasn't invited on this trip

World Series champion Chris Carpenter caught this lunker, a peacock bass, on a recent trip to Brazil with fellow Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay. The All-Star excursion included elite angler Skeet Reese and former Blue Jays reliever B.J. Ryan. They returned home with tales of anacondas and alligators.

Photo courtesy of Chris Carpenter

Monday, December 26, 2011

Life of a long-range shooter

Matt Bonner, the reigning NBA 3-Point Field Goal Percentage Champion, took six shots from a combined 145 feet in the season opener against Memphis. The Red Rocket swished the first missile, a 26-footer from wing, then went cold for the rest of the night in San Antonio's 95-82 win Monday night. That's a typical shot chart for Bonner, entering his 8th season following a busy three months as VP of the NBA Players Association. He usually makes more (hitting 46 percent of 3-point attempts last season) but even when Bonner misses, he still stretches the defense and provides more operating room for Manu Ginobili (24 points) and Tony Parker (15 points). The Spurs are a veteran bunch that dissect teams with ball movement, an extra pass, and a 35-year-old Tim Duncan ... Spurs opened the 3Q with a 25-5 outburst, capped with Kawhi Leonard's first basket of his NBA career, a trey. Leonard, 20, played two years at San Diego State and averaged 15.5 points and 10.6 boards last season ... A look at the trophy sitting on Bonner's mantle:

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Lower-case "d" is for dominant

This interview with Travis d'Arnaud came in mid-August, at the height of his Eastern League MVP season with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. He was squaring up everything fashioned a 15-game hitting streak. Finished the year at .311 with 21 HR and 78 RBI while polishing his catching game. My prediction is he'll start the 2012 season at Triple-A Las Vegas, get hot, and force the Blue Jays' hand by June. Let's get the kid some big-league work. "I'm understanding the game more. My blocking and throwing are more efficient. As far as hitting, I'm keeping the same approach and feeling relaxed. I feel happy. This is the most fun I've ever had playing baseball," d'Arnaud told me that day of the interview ... Fisher Cats 2011 hitting coach Justin Mashore: "When he steps to the plate, it's like there's something special in his hands."

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Tracking Santa

Santa has been spotted on radar in China, which is one of the toughest legs of his journey. It's like Heartbreak Hill of the Boston Marathon. China's population is 1.3 billion and represents almost 20 percent of the world's population. My 5-year-old daughter thinks he'll need some Powerade by the time he reaches our home. Kids say (and write) the darndest things: 

"Dear Santa, Please drink Powerade. Love, Ella"

Friday, December 23, 2011

He makes a pretty lineup card, too

The day after Giants catcher Buster Posey was freight-trained by Scott Cousins at home plate, ending Posey's season, Fisher Cats manager Sal Fasano was discussing the incident inside his office. Big Sal got up from his desk and demonstrated how Posey was in proper position right until the last moment. It was a glimpse of catching expertise, making me realize how much Blue Jays catchers Travis d'Arnaud and Yan Gomes were going to learn during the 2011 season. Now it's A.J. Jimenez's turn to work with Fasano, who'll return for the 2012 season to defend the Eastern League title. Before Bobby Valentine was named manager of the Red Sox, I half-jokingly told Fasano via text he should apply for the job. "No, not interested yet. Still have a lot to learn. Besides, I really like the Blue Jays and their players. I would really like to move up there together," he replied.

The 2011 Eastern League postseason was full of celebration for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, led by manager Sal Fasano (center).

The mustached wonder, who hates the word "swag," has managed two seasons and posted a 147-134 record in the minors. "You just learn so much from him on a day-to-day basis about the game. He's so knowledgeable that you try to be around him as much as you can," RHP Drew Hutchison said. "He's very honest with you and genuinely cares about each player." Sal also pens a helluva lineup card: 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Holidaze!

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Hello, my name is ...

Who am I, you say? After being featured in the National Post -- and providing a feast for all my haters -- maybe I should tell you a little more about myself. Here is some info from the Gray Matter Bonus DVD: I was the New Year's Baby in the town of Plymouth, N.H. Yes, I made headlines when I was a day old ... My first byline came at age 15, writing a story about our backyard Wiffle Ball League ... I covered the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader from 1998-2004 and now mostly cover the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats during the baseball season ... Season ticket holder for the Fisher Cats, every year. If you want tickets, just ask me, and I will probably give you my seats that I have paid for ... Currently have $9,000 in credit card debt ... Love "Gold Rush" on Discovery Channel. "No guts, no glory," says Jack Hoffman. Never watched the Kardashians, but I have interviewed Lamar Odom ... Drive a 1999 Honda Accord, but it's an EX, brah ... The most interesting Fisher Cats/Blue Jays to cover? Travis Snider opened up about his mom's health struggles and death and his own personal challenges with anger. Ricky Romero lacked confidence and swag in the minors, and it really showed, but he was always cool. He still owes me from losing a bet when the Celtics beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals. Eric Thames went to Pepperdine and partied with Pam Anderson, and photo Kevin Littlefield always brings that up when we see Tank. We always told RHP Ismael Ramirez, "You're going to pitch in the big leagues," but he never did ... I coach AAU baseball and have a serious passion for hitting -- and teaching hitting. In 2007, Fisher Cats manager Bill Masse challenged me to a game of Home Run Derby at the park. I hit two homers over the LF wall. Bill hit none. If my life depended on winning one baseball game, I would want Masse managing my team ... In a 2002 Media Game at Fenway, a pitch from Steve Buckley struck the barrel of my bat and the fly ball soared over the Green Monster and into the netting.

One of my favorite pics! Taken after a Media Game at Fenway Park. Nothing like taking a walk on that diamond with your pride and joy!

My favorite national writer is Tyler Kepner of the NY Times, who pitches in the Media Game. Favorite broadcaster, Dan Shulman of ESPN. Favorite Toronto beat writer, Shi Davidi of ... I feel connected with Blue Jays fans and enjoy the tweets and emails, but I've never been to Toronto. Got a passport for the first time last week ... For the past 8 seasons, I have co-hosted a radio show with Matt Bonner of the Spurs and Chris Ryan of WKXL Concord. The Red Rocket calls in every week, and we have a blast ... In 2008, the Manchester Millrats pro basketball team invited me to play in a game, and it was awesome ... Currently reading "Born to Run" by Christopher MacDougall. In 2009, I ran the Boston Marathon with a blistering time of 4:44 ... Been married almost 15 years. She loves the Blue Jays and dislikes the Red Sox ... The name "Gray Matter" came from my mother, Diane, who named my first-ever column. She died from lung cancer in the spring. Miss you, mom. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Feature in the National Post

There's a terrific piece by John Lott in today's National Post that recaps the frenzy of Monday night and how the Yu Darvish story ended up burning me. If you want to know the difference between blogs and major news outlets such as my own newspaper, the Darvish saga pretty much sums it up. “There is a code of ethics that applies to journalism, and that code tends to blur in the blogosphere, often a land of anonymity and speculation,” I told Lott for his story. "I fell into that trap, lowered my standards, and began feeling like a maverick with this hot story while sitting in my home office.” My sources were so confident the Blue Jays had won the bid, and I still believe the Jays bid an excess of $50 million. Wish I could give you more juicy details of what "Deep Throat" told me that night, but I have to protect my sources ... Thanks to many for the love and support. You know who you are ... "Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas to all," sources say.

Happy Holidays ...

When you run a 5K holding a turkey leg, cows appreciate it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

More Darvish-fueled frenzy reaction

Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos, reacting to the Darvish-fueled frenzy, hasn't said how much the Blue Jays' bid. Doesn't want to provide financials, which is understandable. Some AA teleconference quotes via Mike Cormack of "I understand the passion. We all want to win. We want to make sure it's done the right way ... We have plenty of resources and enough creativity to make it work ... I have what I have available and will make it work."

Google Adsense dollars earned on my blog this week will be donated to the JaysCare Foundation. 

Day after Darvish

Blue Jays ace Ricky Romero said it best last night on Twitter: "My people RELAX about the whole Yu Darvish thing. Stop freaking out. I have all the confidence in our team n u guys should too. We're young n talented. Love, Ricky." The Rangers' winning bid was $51.7 million, edging the Blue Jays. Some Jays execs, internally, were confident they'd won the bid. So was I ... Below is a picture from a Japanese magazine my family appeared in. The magazine story was not about Yu Darvish. 

We're big in Japan.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Getting burned

Sorry, Blue Jays, fans. I gave the story my all and ended up getting bad info from trusted sources, guys that have never let me down before. (WTH happened?) This is the danger of the blogosphere. I didn't go with the story in my newspaper because none of my sources went on the record. That's our rule. So I'll take the heat for posting it on my blog. I'm sorry to all those great fans in Canada. I screwed up. My Blue Jays sources screwed up. I'll be right back at it tomorrow.

The Yu Darvish Decision

UPDATE (10:35 p.m.): Announcement coming soon ... Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos plans to announce tonight his team won the bid for Japanese sensation Yu Darvish, according to my industry sources. I was told the Blue Jays would have an announcement around 9:30 p.m. (since delayed) that would blow away the great fans of Canada, who've been thrilled at the idea of Darvish signing with Toronto. Both parties have 30 days to agree on a contract. Early reports on the Blue Jays throwing down "a monster bid" were accurate. The bid was likely north of $50 million, a much higher figure than most in the Toronto organization expected. One of my sources: "How many tickets do you think we'll sell tomorrow? This thing will pay for itself."

Jays fans are flat-out going bananas right now. "Hope you are right. This could be a moment we look back on in a few years as the turning point in the franchise," tweeted @Anthopojays.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Waiting on the Whirling Darvish

Is it Tuesday yet? We're all dying to know if the Blue Jays, indeed, posted the highest bid on Yu Darvish. I believe they did, and I believe the Nippon Ham Fighters will accept that bid. This is based on my own talks with members of the Blue Jays organization, but nobody will be 100-percent positive until MLB makes the Tuesday announcement. The good folks at Jays Journal gave 10 Reasons why the expensive acquisition of Mr. Darvish makes sense. I've seen first-hand how John Farrell helped Dice-K make the transition to Boston, and Darvish should be excited about potentially working with Farrell ... It's only Sunday. Can we skip Monday? P.S. Random swag winner today. Email me at

Friday, December 16, 2011

Yu The Man!

The Blue Jays reportedly entered a "monster bid" approaching $50 million and won the Yu Darvish sweeps, according to reports. Yu nearly broke Twitter Friday night after George King of the New York Post reported the Jays were the front-runner. If the Nippon Ham Fighters formally accept the offer, Toronto has 30 days to negotiate a major-league contract with Darvish, a 6-foot-5 sensation with a career 1.99 ERA.

"We'd become a 95-game winner overnight," a long-time member of the Blue Jays organization told me today. "We'd be in the playoffs."

It's looking like a sweet day for Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos, who's gone hard after international free agents, winning some (Adeiny Hechavarria) and losing some (Aroldis Chapman). Darvish is considered a more polished pitcher than his Japanese predecessors. My quick scouting report based on these video highlights and discussions from the experts: What stands out is the athletic body and power arm. Throws 93-95-mph with an array of off-speed stuff. Imposing, aggressive. Really mixes the speed of his pitches and sets up hitters with a plan of attack. He's still rather lanky and will add some muscle and sustain velo ... However, let's not mold a plaque for Cooperstown just yet. Remember Dice-K mania and his so-called "gyro-ball" that had everyone so excited? Well, the Red Sox paid $51.1 million on Dice's posting fee and rolled craps. Not sure you could find many Red Sox fans who believe the 100-plus million now spent on Dice-K was financially worth it.

Healing on the hardwood

Brad Rhoades is a scrawny 15-year-old with a sweet jumper, but after spending an afternoon with the Pembroke Academy sophomore, I realized he's one of the toughest basketball players in the state. Two days after his mother, Kristen Rhoades, died in a snowmobile crash, leaving two kids and a husband at age 46, Brad torched Bishop Brady with 46 points. "Momma love," he calls it. Nearly 10 months have passed since the tragedy, and Rhoades is still going strong. "If I didn't have sports, I'd probably be one of those people that never lets it go from your mind," he said. "There are days when it's tough, but I always try to look at the positives. I'm always thinking of ways to make her proud?" Pembroke's season opens tonight against Portsmouth in a matchup of Division II's top teams. More in today's New Hampshire Union Leader.

Pembroke Spartans pictured left to right: Dominic Timbas, Brad Rhoades, Dylan Gage, Rene Maher and Jordan Williams.

"It's amazing how many people have reached out to us from across the country," said Brad's father, Frank. "It made us feel special and realize how everyone deals with tragedy. It's how you deal with it afterwards."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Saskatchewan-bound Swag

Congrats to Joel Merkosky of Welwyn SK, who won this sweet-spot Adam Lind autograph just for reading this blog. My wife had Lindy sign this ball during his 2006 Eastern League MVP season with the Fisher Cats. That year, Lind batted .310 with 19 homers and 71 RBI. Happy to send this prize to a Blue Jays fan in Saskatchewan. 

Kevin Littlefield, No. 1 photography prospect

Here are some random 2011 pics from Kevin Littlefield, official photographer of this site. One of my favorite moments of the season was standing at Tampa Bay's batting cage with Littlefield as we told B.J. Upton it's "all about the swag." J.P. Arencibia is mayor of the K2 Swag District. 
Eastern League MVP Travis d'Arnaud about to go Oppo-Taco.

Mark Sobolewski reppin' New Balance.

Adeiny ready to pounce.

Adeiny would've had it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cy Young winners, anacondas and alligators

Just got off the phone with Chris Carpenter, who returned home from an incredible hunting and fishing trip to Brazil and the Amazon. Carpenter, Roy Halladay and B.J. Ryan were part of a group led by famous angler Skeet Reese, and, boy, do they have stories to tell. BFF’s Carpenter and Halladay, who’ve combined for three World Series titles and 11 All-Star appearances, dueled in the National League Division Series before planning an off-season adventure of a lifetime. Highlights:
  • They slept on a houseboat for seven nights, spending most of the day fishing for peacock bass.
  • They hunted in the rainforest, shooting caiman (alligator-like creatures), and met a native who'd just been attacked by an anaconda.
  •  The snake bit the man in the butt and tore the motor off a 14-foot canoe. Read Skeet's epic tale here.
  • From Skeet: "Me and Doc came across a local, sitting bare naked on a tree by the river. He was fishing in the river for tropical fish to sell for aquariums when he got attacked by an anaconda."
  • They ate alligator and turtle. They showed a Winter X Games dude, Ryan McCullough, how to fish like a champ.
  • More Skeet, LOL: "The snake apparently bit him on the ass but he was able to free himself before the snake wrapped him up."

Picture in the back row are Chris Carpenter, B.J. Ryan and Roy Halladay, who recently embarked on a fishing trip to Brazil. Photo

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Red Sox part ways with Varitek

THE CAPTAIN took a kick in the gut when the Red Sox reached a contract agreement with Kelly Shoppach today. Just like that, Jason Varitek's 15-year playing career with the Red Sox was over. It has to hurt. I mean, Shoppach can't hit -- and Varitek can do that. 'Tek played 1,488 games behind the dish, the most in club history, and had the fourth-longest interrupted Red Sox career behind Yaz, Ted Williams and Jim Rice.

Varitek wants to continue playing, but it's not looking promising. The Blue Jays and Tigers needed backups but signed Jeff Mathis and Gerald Laird, respectively. Varitek, who turns 40 in April, really fought the laws of life at the end of  2011. His knee was killing him, and he ended up throwing out just 14 percent of base swipers ... Email me if you want some free swag, That's right, old-school AOL.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Weak Monday Notebook

Jambo. Here's a stream of consciousness-like blog, which isn't very good because I have a screaming headache ... Former Blue Jays farmhand Scott Campbell, who played in the MLB Futures Game during a terrific 2008 season, is coaching with New Zealand U-18 baseball ... Dominic Rich had 30 doubles to lead the 2004 Fisher Cats. Last I heard, he was a power lifter ... Fisher Cats lefty Frank Gailey popped the question to the lovely Christina Dougherty -- she said yes! -- and Gailey was soon traded to the Phillies. Congrats on the engagement and trade! That's good news for Gailey, a Philly native ... Carlos Quentin is ready to break down, while Travis Snider and Eric Thames are ready to blossom ... JaxChillinOne reached 1,500 followers for his 23rd birthday ... Kathy Anderson's episode 8 is another gem. "The Mets invest to blow some saves." ... See those sunglasses in the above photo? They were given to me after laser eye surgery and lasted about two weeks ... I applied for my passport. I really want to visit Toronto next summer and have some kind of party with all the Blue Jays fans that have been so kind while following my blog and Twitter account ... Finally, the Monte Carlo scene from Training Day:      

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Meet Drew Hutchison, pitcher and pro scout

Now that NeMo is gone, let's open up the scouting report on Drew Hutchison, whose pinpoint control and strikeout pitches have the Blue Jays reserving a spot in their rotation. Hutchison was capped at 150 innings last season, and it didn't matter the Fisher Cats were entering the playoffs with Hutch sitting at 149.1 innings. He was done. As Toronto's No. 1 pitching prospect, he'll need to bring a passport to Double-A New Hampshire since the Blue Jays could be calling at any moment in 2012. We know Hutchison can pitch, but can he scout? I asked Drew to describe his stuff, and he obliged. Here's a look at Hutch on Hutch, beginning with his approach on the mound:

"My pitching style is very aggressive, often pitching to to contact and pounding down in the zone. I like to work fast, and I'm at my best when commanding my fastball and getting ahead of hitters."

On his fastball: "I throw a four-seam and two-seam. The four-seam doesn't have as much movement but has more velocity (92-94-mph). I use it to pound the zone, challenge hitters and get ahead in the count. My two-seam is a sinker (90-92-mph) with true sink and induces a lot of ground balls and weak contact. The command of my fastball is what comes first with me. It's the most important. The command of location can enhance and make each pitch better."

On his changeup: "I throw a modified circle-changeup. It has slight fade and depth away from left-handers and moves into right-handers. I use it to keep hitters off-balance and will throw when I'm ahead or behind in the count."

On his slider: "It's probably my most inconsistent pitch but might be my best pitch when it's on, moving with good, late depth. My goal is to refine that pitch and make it look the same as a fastball right until the end."

Fisher Cats manager Sal Fasano gave Hutchison three AA starts last season, and the 20-year-old responded with three wins, 15 innings, 10H, 2ER, 21K, 2W.

"He's fun to watch work. Very good stuff and commands both sides of the plate," Fasano told me today. "The slider is above average and he's got a good changeup. He has deceptive delivery in the way he throws across his body. Fierce competitor."

Drew Hutchison is about break a bat with this two-seam fastball. MiLB Photo

Here is how Hutchison stacks up with the American League East's top pitching prospects:

1. LHP Matt Moore, Rays -- Went berserk last season, racking up 79 strikeouts in 52.2 innings at Triple-A Durham. Made nine starts for the Bulls and went 4-0 (1.37 ERA). Next.

2. LHP Manny Banuelos, Yankees -- We've seen him pitch several times against the Fisher Cats. I know the little fella had control problems at AAA, but I'd still take him. 

3. RHP Drew Hutchison, Blue Jays -- Excellent command. Plus-slider. See above.

4. RHP Chris Archer, Rays -- Electric upper-90s stuff but still a work in progress. Was the big arm in Matt Garza trade.

5. RHP Dellin Betances, Yankees -- A beastly specimen at 6-foot-8, 250 pounds, Betances gets on top of his pitches and throws 95-97-mph. He's like watching a huge Little Leaguer pitching from 46 feet.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Hot-stove talk remains cold in Boston

The Red Sox kicked off their 100th anniversary celebration of Fenway Park, starting with a theatrical performance of how the Boston plot of land was sold at auction 100 years ago. I must say, it was pretty cool, and I gave the Red Sox props in today's column, but I kept thinking about the Angels signing Albert Pujols. And while Mayor Tom Menino talked about train rides to Fenway Park as a kid, the Angels were picking up C.J. Wilson. While the Marlins delivered Mark Buehrle, and the Blue Jays traded for closer Sergio Santos, the Red Sox got former Blue Jays reliever Jesse Carlson and a coffee book.

Sox fans can read this book during the 2012 playoffs. Boston Herald Photo

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tuesday Blue Jays Notebook

Nestor Molina is excited about the trade for Sergio Santos but is feeling the bittersweet emotions. "Really, I feel so happy because this can be my big opportunity, but I feel sad because I'm going to leave all my Toronto people," he said.

It's been 24 hours since the Fisher Cat for ex-Fisher Cat trade, and the people I trust most in the business are pretty mixed when I've asked them about it. Let's hope it's a win for both parties ... There is a story in the Toronto Sun that calls out Anthony Gose for his lack of hustle in the Arizona Fall League. I was asked about this by the Jays Journal. A bit of my response as quoted by the Journal:

 "Were there times when Gose didn't run out a ground ball? I'm sure. Is it worth a headline in the Toronto Sun? Don't think so. We're talking about a dynamic player who stole 70 bases and sparked New Hampshire to an Eastern League title, played in the Arizona Fall League and kept right on going to winter ball. Personally, I would cut him a little slack if he didn't run out a grounder under the Peoria sunshine." 

Hate to break it to the folks at TMZ, but Ricky Romero and former Miss USA Rima Fakih are no longer an item. The power couple ended a serious relationship about a month ago. Good move for Ricky. The not-so-role-modeling Rima was busted for DUI on Saturday after driving a friend's Jaguar ... Caught up with Yankees prospect  Joey Maher in Manchester, N.H. This kid is a character. Maher, 19, talks about adjusting to the pro game in this 90-second vid ... Here is video from a terrific baseball clinic held over the weekend. I was honored to be a coach at the event that raised $1,400 for three charities, including the Union Leader Santa Fund.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Nestor, we hardly knew you

ALEX ANTHOPOULOS: "I went to Winter Meetings, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt -- and a closer." (OK, you got me. The Toronto GM didn't really say that.) Today the Blue Jays re-acquired old friend Sergio Santos by trading top pitching prospect Nestor Molina in a straight-up deal with the White Sox. The Jays believe Santos -- a former New Hampshire Fisher Cats shortstop -- will continue to blossom into one of baseball's top closers. The deal comes with cost certainty, with Santos signed through 2014 and team options for the following three seasons. Sergio would stay on the books for no more than $31.5 million over six years as the Jays Prospects laid this out quite nicely.

Question. Do you want to win games or save money? Toronto's biggest need is starting pitching, and Molina's stuff is so good that he would have filled that void. I envisioned him as Toronto's No. 2 or 3 starter by 2013, so it's tough to see him go. Had the Jays called him up next season, Molina would have been under control for six years at bargain-basement prices. For the record, I think this trade will come back to haunt the Jays. Funny we're even having this discussion because I remember Santos throwing a bullpen session for the Fisher Cats in 2007. He had 20 homers that year and won the Eastern League Home Run Derby ... Shout out to Drew Hutchison, who has just become Toronto's top pitching prospect.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Monday Blue Jays Notebook

DID ALEX ANTHOPOULOS bring his A-game to Dallas? We shall see. The Blue Jays need pitching, and if the walls of the Hilton Anatole could talk, they'd share stories of Alex talking up prospects Nestor Molina, Travis d'Arnaud, Adeiny Hechavarria and others. The Toronto GM told reporters that Chad Jenkins and Deck McGuire (and others) are "on the cusp" of reaching the majors, which tells me he's looking to shop a package of youngsters for a proven big-league arm.

The Cubs have been fielding questions on Matt Garza, who is among the best starting pitchers being shopped around at Winter Meetings. Memo to AA: dangle Adeiny and one of your stud catchers (Travis d'Arnaud, A.J. Jimenez, Carlos Perez) in exchange for Garza. I realize the Cubs have Starlin Castro at SS, but Theo can flip Adeiny elsewhere.

In other news, Molina isn't fazed about recent discussions of him becoming a reliever. That's not the long-term plan, but I envision Molina earning a 2012 midseason callup, and then pitching from the bullpen to log some experience. In '13, he'll be in the starting rotation ... "I don't care if I'm a starter, reliever or closer. The most important thing is to be in the big leagues. That's my goal. I'm just looking for my opportunity, and I'm very sure I'm going to get that," Molina told me over the weekend. "I believe in myself. I've been working hard for three weeks (in Valencia, Venezuela) to get in good shape for spring training and to give a good surprise."

Prince Fielder to Toronto? I don't see it. I think that's wishful thinking and speculation generated by Fielder and his agent, who are the Blue Jays are likely to increase spending by as much as $50 million in 2012. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Ex-Miss USA Rima Fakih busted for DUI

OH, RIMA. You wore the crown as Miss USA. You're our girl. Ricky's girl. Your hometown of Dearborn, Mich., boasts of your accomplishments. Needless to say, hire a driver next time. Rima Fakih was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving on Saturday, and then lied about it on Twitter.  Michigan police officers pulled over the beauty queen at 3:30 a.m. for speeding, according to reports, and she was arrested on suspicion of DUI. I bet the mugshot is still gorgeous.

UPDATE: Ms. Fakih took one for the team, appointing herself as designated driver because her friend was intoxicated, according to Rima's lawyer, Doraid Elder. He told that Rima is "remorseful and apologetic to all those she let down."

Rima Fakih is crowned 2010 Miss USA.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Einstein is the world's coolest horse

In honor of Bobby Valentine's big day, I'm going with a post on Einstein, the world's smallest stallion. (Because Bobby V is a stallion, right?) Little Einstein was born in Barnstead, N.H., on April 22, 2010 and stood only 14 inches tall. He soon became a media darling, appearing on Oprah and shows around the globe. At one point, both Shaquille O'Neal and Paris Hilton expressed interested in purchasing the pint-sized pinto. However, he is not for sale, rather living a wonderful life with beastie friends Lilly the dog, Eleanor and Isabelle (goats) and Charlie the donkey, who is a friendly ASSistant. The Disney Hyperion book, "A Friend for Einstein," ranked No. 2 on the NY Times bestseller list.

Einstein, who is now fully grown, munches on a carrot while enjoying the afternoon with my daughter, Ella Rose, and a goat earlier this week. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mailbag: Bobby Valentine reaction

Since Bobby Valentine became the leading candidate to become the next Red Sox manager, most everyone I spoke with -- fans, scouts, those who've only seen him on ESPN -- had reasons to dislike him. There was this eye-opening column by Murray Chass, who says "V is for Loser," and others treating the selection with dread.  I found some balance with e-mails, the first from Mets fan Jim Wrynn in New Jersey:

Mr. Gray, upon what do you base your statement that Bobby Valentine is "loathed by Mets fans...?"  Valentine led the team to two post season appearances, reaching the World Series in 2000. He is second in wins to Davey Johnson and third in winning percentage to behind Johnson and Willie Randolph (and why exactly did the Sox not interview Randolph?).  When the Mets were searching for a manager last year, there were many long time fans who wanted Valentine to be interviewed. I think the loathing of Bobby Valentine came not from the fans, but from the media.  Valentine might place a false mustache above his lips, he does not place his lips on the back side of the media.  As to quoting Steve Phillips, I will let Mr. Phillips character speak for itself.

And this email from Jerry Rowan: 

I'm a lifelong Mets fan who attended my first game in 1974. Despite the fact that my family moved to NH in the early 80's, I'm still a Mets fan and manage to make it down to Queens for 6-7 games per year. As such, I feel I'm uniquely qualified to offer a correction on the article you wrote in yesterday's paper (11/27)...Mets fans do NOT "loathe" Bobby Valentine. I would say Bobby is revered by roughly 75% of the Mets fanbase and there was a substantial amount of fans who were clamoring for his return last fall (before we hired Terry Collins). Bobby is a tremendous manager who will out-think, out-work, and out-prepare most of his colleagues. He'll also wear out his welcome (sooner or later) with management and members of  the press because of his frankness and ego (check out Joel Sherman's article in the 11/27 edition of the New York Post). But the ride will be fun, entertaining, and successful. If you guys actually hire Bobby... I might actually watch a Sox game for the first time since 1986. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Alumni List

Fifty-two Fisher Cats graduates who've reached the majors, courtesy of team historian Bob Lipman: 2004 -- Kevin Frederick, Gustavo Chacin, Brandon League; 2005 -- Aaron Hill, Tyrell Godwin, Dustin McGowan, John-Ford Griffin, Shaun Marcum; 2006 -- Casey Janssen, Steve Andrade, Francisco Rosario, Edgardo Alfonzo, Zach Jackson, Ryan Roberts, Davis Romero, John Hattig, Kevin Barker, Adam Lind; 2007 -- Jamie Vermilyea, Jesse Litsch, Howie Clark, Brian Wolfe, Curtis Thigpen, Jordan DeJong, Lee Gronkiewicz, Josh Banks; 2008 -- Jesse Carlson, David Purcey, Robinzon Diaz, Scott Richmond, Travis Snider; 2009 -- Ricky Romero, Robert Ray, Brett Cecil, Brad Mills, Marc Rzepczynski, Kyle Phillips; 2010 -- Sergio Santos, Fabio Castro, Rommie Lewis, Erik Kratz, Wil Ledezma, J.P. Arencibia, Shawn Hill, Justin James, Kyle Drabek; 2011 -- Tim Collins, Brad Emaus, Jo-Jo Reyes, Luis Perez, David Cooper, Trystan Magnuson, Eric Thames. Zach Stewart, Henderson Alvarez, Joel Carreno, Darin Mastroianni, Adam Loewen, Danny Farquhar, Chad Beck.

Ode to "Jero" (pronounced Jay-Row)

If Brian Jeroloman gets a break, he'll embark on a long catching career in the majors, taking a Sal Fasano-like journey through The Show. He's one of those fundamentally sound backup types (excellent catch-and-throw to second base) with strong communication and leadership skills. He gets on base, hits a little. Everyone likes him. And now Jero is back following a wild paper ride that sent him to Pittsburgh, then DFA'd, and re-acquired on waivers by Toronto. Now that Toronto lost Jose Molina to free agency, Jeroloman might have caught that break. Conceivably he could backup JPA until Travis d'Arnaud arrives.

Twins 3B Luke Hughes, Ethan Gray, Brian Jeroloman in Manchester, N.H.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Who's ready for the Bobby Valentine Show?

Bobby Valentine is a bridge to John Farrell. That's how the Red Sox will end up playing this out, after the Bobby V Era ends in a year or two. Not a good fit, as I wrote in today's "On Baseball" column in the Newt-endorsing New Hampshire Union Leader: "Valentine will make a splash, all right ... He'll win the press conference one day and turn a small brush fire into a raging inferno the next."

The Red Sox really missed Farrell as their pitching coach in 2011, when starters went rogue on their Beer and Wings Tour, and they'll be longing for him to return as manager. Farrell is under contract through 2013. The over/under on Bobby V in Boston is 1-1/2 years ... For a fleeting moment Sunday night, it appeared Houston's Brad Mills might enter the picture and become the No. 1 seed for the Red Sox job. Twitter was abuzz with Mills-to-Boston talk after Ken Rosenthal reported GM Ed Wade is about to be fired in a house cleaning. However, it's now sounding like Mills is staying with the Astros. Interesting! 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Blue Jays minor-league staffers in limbo

The whole Red Sox managerial search, which has been a complete debacle, has left a ripple effect throughout Toronto's farm system. Tory Lovullo remains a longshot to succeed Terry Francona in Boston, but until the Sox hire a manager, the Jays don't know if they'll need to replace Lovullo as first-base coach. Also, if Gene Lamont gets the job, Lovullo may join him as bench coach. Anyway, the inside word is that Bobby Valentine is the Red Sox ownership's choice.

Meanwhile, Sal Fasano and others don't have their assignments for 2012. The Double-A Fisher Cats manager won't be named for at least another week, though Sal is the logical choice to return if he doesn't move up. New Hampshire's pitching coach will be Tom Signore, who joined the Fisher Cats in 2009-10 before a stint in Vegas.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Poultry in Motion

More than 1,200 runners gathered at the home of Double-A New Hampshire for the inaugural Thanksgiving Fisher Cats 5K this morning. What a turnout! As always, Northeast Delta Dental Stadium looked beautiful.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!: Here is this morning's view from the home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. I ran the Fisher Cats 5K while carrying this turkey leg like a baton. 

Now if they only had a bullpen ...

The Blue Jays haven't made any bold off-season moves, but when I look at the 2012 lineup, I see major upgrades at center field and third base. Colby Rasmus, who'll be the only player in the clubhouse with a World Series ring, is going to have a career year. Although he had a rough start in Toronto, batting .173 in 133 ABs, Rasmus loved the atmosphere and overall mojo during a post-trade stint with the Jays.

We talked quite a bit during his rehab stop at Double-A New Hampshire. Rasmus really opened up and told me about his crippling relationship with TLR and how he couldn't step off the field without being micro-managed. It just didn't work there -- just like it didn't work for Yunel Escobar at the end of his time with Atlanta. Rasmus will have a career in 2012 with 26 HR, 80 RBI, .277.

A full-time Brett Lawrie at third base, for my money, is the most significant team upgrade. There is no substitute for the energy and power of The Beast. It's contagious. Lawrie's August 10 grand slam beat the A's and woke up the Blue Jays (winning six of nine). Lawrie's year? 27 HR, 91 RBI, .280, 22 SB. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Top 10 Blue Jays Prospects, scouting reports

1. C Travis d'Arnaud -- Eastern League MVP  proved to be a complete catcher and offensive force. Showed raw power and the right approach in a .311/.371/.542 season. Good situational hitter and knows how to move runners and reach base. Oppo-Tacos are always a plus. Video of lower-case d talking about his season here.

2. RHP Drew Hutchison -- Young, efficient. Easy delivery, pinpoint control and good movement. Hutch, a 15th-rounder, will start next season in Double-A and be throwing complete games in the majors by 2013. Good listener, worker and teammate. Sound bites here.

3. RHP Noah Syndergaard --  Love the 6-foot-5 frame and arm action. Call me crazy, but he reminds me of Daniel Bard. Gets on top of pitches with excellent extension, leading to riding action on 4-seamers. Throws a 2-seamer with late sink. Gym rat. Good makeup.

4. SS Adeiny Hechavarria -- Elite glove, range and arm. We watched Adeiny win games with his defense. Had a promising 2011 and finished with a .389 stop in Las Vegas.  Personally, I'd package him in a trade while stock is soaring. He'll never hit big-league pitching like Yunel Escobar.

5. C Carlos Perez -- Baseball player. The Blue Jays rave about his defense, quick bat and approach to the game. Gap hitter with good instincts everywhere on the diamond.

6. OF Jake Marisnick -- When talking about a prospect's "tools," there is a tendency to overrate players or fail to mention a glaring weakness -- Moises Sierra and poor base running, for example -- but Marisnick is a legit athlete with all the tools. Average (.320) & power (14 homers) spiked in '11. 

7. RHP Aaron Sanchez -- Lean and mean, Sanchez is going to tantalize the Blue Jays until he develops better command. Plus fastball. High ceiling. Relies on his curveball a little too much.

8. RHP Deck McGuire -- Though still a work progress, Deck made significant strides and looked unhittable at times with the slider and sinker. When I saw him dominate at Portland, I was convinced.

9. OF Anthony Gose -- No shortage of star power. Showed 4 of 5 tools, swagger along with 70 stolen bases in 2011 but got himself out way too much. Hard to believe he didn't turn 21 until August.

Goseman: .253, 16 HR, 70 SB, 154K  (Kevin Littlefield photo)

10. LHP Justin Nicolino -- Slender southpaw has a slight edge over Daniel Norris as the best lefty in the system. Have heard great things about his off-speed stuff and changeup. More muscle and physical maturity are going to make him a scary prospect in the near future.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Granite State Baseball Dinner

Chris Carpenter won the live auction for a Steven Tyler signed guitar, bidding $3,000, and Oscar Gamble no longer has the afro. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is one shy dude with nice boots, and Chanty Sok from "The Fighter" was at the head table. The pics:

Chris Carpenter (Cardinals) and Brad Zapenas (Cubs)
Chris Carpenter and Tareah Gray
"The Fighter" movie stars Mickey O'Keefe, Chanty Sok
and Tareah Gray. Note Mickey's firm grip. 
Anthony Gose, Chris Carpenter
Pirates LHP Jeff Locke and Yankees RHP Jordan Cote
Tom Raffio of Northeast Delta Dental gave that $1,000 check to Anthony Gose for Fisher Cats excellence and charitable work.
Nine Heidi Watneys and a DH Heidi Watney

Brad Zapenas, Stud Baseball Player, Jordan Cote.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Hockey Night in New Hampshire

Andrew Campbell's OT goal gave the Manchester Monarchs a 3-2 win over Worcester before a crowd of 6,192 fans tonight. Tough guys Justin Johnson and Jimmy Bonneau set the tone with a heavyweight battle on their first shift. Sights and sounds from the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, NH:

Chris Ryan interviews Andrew Campbell before the game. 

Mustached Monarchs coach Mark Morris
Monarchs broadcasters Chris Ryan and Ken Cail
Chuck-A-Puck Bob 

New Blue Jays logo unveiled today

New Blue Jays primary logo is a hybrid of old-school bird and font, perhaps channeling some World Series mojo. I'm not in love but it looks better every time I see it.

Hello, Ottawa. Really?

Oh, Ottawa. With all due respect, you're bringing some weak sauce from the capital city. I spent the afternoon debunking an Ottawa Citizen report that has the New Hampshire Fisher Cats being traded to Ottawa in exchange for the Binghamton Mets. Say what?

According to the published report, "All signs indicate Ottawa would become the new home of the Eastern League franchise in Binghamton, New York. That would involve a swap of working agreements between the New York Mets, the major league parent team of the existing Binghamton club, and the Toronto Blue Jays, whose Double-A team now plays in Manchester, New Hampshire. That trade of affiliations would occur after the 2012 season.”

It spawned other reports, and people actually believed this on Twitter. On a mission to set the record straight, I talked with all parties involved and learned a few things along the way. For one, the Fisher Cats may not pursue a player development contract with a New York team -- a special provision that's part of the territorial waiver signed by Red Sox team president Larry Lucchino in 2003. That contract clause is based on major-league TV markets and precludes the Fisher Cats from entering a PDC with the Mets or Yankees.

Fisher Cats president Rick Brenner, put in tough spot to comment on the Ottawa rumor, handled it very well. “Unlike media speculation that has no foundation in fact, we are going to abide by the rules governing the affiliation process between major league and minor league teams and only say that both the Blue Jays and Fisher Cats are very happy with our eight-year relationship."

More from McEachern: “The speculation is getting way out in front of itself ... It could be one city councilor who thinks it would be cool to have Minor League Baseball again in Ottawa and doesn’t have anything behind it. These rumors pop up all time.”

Some have asked about New Hampshire adopting a Triple-A team. That can't happen, either, based on contract language tied to the team's inception and involving the aforementioned territorial waiver involving the Red Sox.