Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Patreon Exclusive: Kevin Gowdy answers Nine Silly-ass Questions

Kevin Gowdy, image- Jay Floyd

Recently, I interviewed Phillies pitching prospect Kevin Gowdy.  In that interview the Phillies' 2nd round draft selection from 2016 talked with me about the current baseball hiatus, rehabbing teammates and much more.  Exclusively for Patreon members I've got a separate, less serious interview with the promising 22-year-old right-hander in which I asked him Nine Silly-ass Questions.

To see what Kevin Gowdy had to say on the subjects of curse words, music, super powers and plenty more, head on over to Patreon.com/PhoulBallz and support my work.  You'll get exclusive interviews, early access to other material as well as my gratitude.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

PhoulBallz Interview: Phillies infield prospect Madison Stokes

Stokes w/ Lakewood in 2018, image- Jay Floyd
Please consider supporting my work and subscribe to my Patreon page.  Your patronage will get you exclusive interviews and early access to all of my other content.  Thank you.

A 10th round draft pick of the Phillies in 2018, Madison Stokes quickly made a positive impression upon debuting in the professional ranks. In 55 games the righty batter notched a combined .299/.372/.433 slash line at three levels.

Last year in his first full minor league season, the University of South Carolina product posted a .242 average with 10 home runs and 42 RBI primarily as a third baseman and first baseman in 110 games for Class A Advanced Clearwater.

This week I talked with Madison about the current baseball hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic, how he's staying in baseball shape, his pro experiences thus far and plenty more. Read ahead for that complete interview.

- Can you describe finding out that baseball was being shut down? How were the players informed and what were your feelings?

We were playing against the Yankees when someone got a notification about a NBA player getting the virus. Come to find out, we would have a meeting the next morning about the pandemic. Obviously, I wasn’t happy because we were just getting game ready but I had mixed feelings about going home. I was pumped to see everyone but also didn’t want to put my spring training and season on pause.

- How are you keeping in shape? Working alone or with anyone?

I have my daily training of workouts and baseball exercises. My dad will hit me ground balls and if I’m with my girlfriend, she will throw me some golf sized plastic balls to hit.

-Talk about your lady's golf ball pitches...can she bring the heat?!?! Does she and your Dad have any significant playing background?

Dad played a little bit but mostly football in high school. Girlfriend plays beach volleyball at the University of South Carolina. She has gotten much better from where she started (laughs). She enjoys trying to get me to miss, so we have a great time!

- The Threshers had some big moments last year. What were some highlights for you from 2019?

Lot of fun moments from last season. Bus rides are always a lot of fun, making it to the post season is always a blast; however, that got cut short as well. I don’t have a favorite but I mostly enjoy being around a fun group of guys competing.

- Where has your game improved the most since you turned pro and is there a coach or other Phillies personnel that helped you the most?

I would say my level of maturity within the game has improved the most. Having a better understanding of how pitchers are attacking me and an overall better feel for what it takes to get to the top. I am more focused on the small details that have a big impact in my baseball future. No, not one coach. All of them have helped me in some shape or form.

- How would you feel if baseball returned without fans in attendance and have you ever played in front of zero fans before?

I love fans because they bring the atmosphere and it is always nice having someone in the stands that you know is supporting you but I can play without. I have done it before, I just want to get out there and compete again.

- How are you battling boredom during this pandemic?

Not really a battle for me, I’ve got my routine that usually keeps me occupied for most of the day. If I do catch myself bored then I’ll usually go outside and find something to do, read a book, or learn a language.

- Do you have any TV, game or book suggestions for others that are stuck at home?

I’m currently watching Love Island, pretty entertaining show. I’m currently reading “Tools of Titans”by Tim Ferris, highly recommend. Would also recommend "Atomic Habits" by James Clear. I will also play Call of Duty with my buddies.

- Has there been any panic shopping where you are and were you able to acquire the key items like Lysol wipes, toilet paper and all that?

No panic here with finding anything. We are fortunate enough to have access to our necessities.

- What are you missing most about playing?

I mostly miss being around my buddies and competing with them on the field. I love competing.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

PhoulBallz Interview: RHP Kevin Gowdy talks baseball hiatus

Kevin Gowdy, image- Jay Floyd
Please consider supporting my work and subscribe to my Patreon page.  Your patronage will get you exclusive interviews and early access to all of my other content.  Thank you.

While baseball is on hiatus, I've been chatting with some pro baseball personnel to catch up and see how guys are using their time away from the diamond.  Most recently, Phillies pitching prospect Kevin Gowdy offered some time to let me know how he's staying fit, how he's killing time during quarantine and plenty more.

Last year, after missing two seasons following UCL reconstruction in his pitching arm, the righty posted a 0-7 record with a 4.60 ERA and a 1.69 WHIP in 28 appearance for Class A Lakewood.

Gowdy, a six-foot-four 170-pounder was the Phils' 2nd round draft selection in 2016.

Read ahead for that complete interview with Kevin.

-What was it like getting the news that the baseball season was being put on hold due to the Coronavirus pandemic?

It was pretty weird getting the news that our season had been postponed, and it still is very weird to think about now. Just looking down at my phone and seeing a March or April date while I’m at home is a pretty strange feeling.

-How are you continuing to train or keep the rust off while socially distanced and away from the training complex?

I’m managing to stay in shape just by continuing to throw and work out at home. Obviously, we don’t have the same resources or equipment that we would at the complex, so really just trying to make the most out of we have at home (using) lighter dumbells, no barbells.

-Some guys like Albertus Barber are throwing at trees or a fence. Are you working out alone or do you have a throwing partner at all?

I’m lucky enough to have a buddy with the Pirates who I’ve been throwing with five to six days a week. It makes a huge difference having someone to throw to with and give you feedback, as opposed to throwing into a fence. And only Barber is crazy enough to throw into a tree (laughs).

-Are you in touch with a lot of your teammates and how much are you guys talking about baseball as opposed to other things?

I’ve been in touch with some of my buddies from the organization just checking in and seeing what they’re up to. Definitely a little bit of both baseball and also just asking how they’re doing and what they’ve been doing to pass time.

-How would you feel if baseball restarted and games were set to be played without fans in attendance?

At this point, I really wouldn’t care if there were no fans in the stadium as long as we got to play baseball. The fans are a huge part of minor league baseball and something that I’ve come to really enjoy interacting with, but I would do just about anything if it meant us playing again.

-Have you given any thought to this and are you a bit jealous of guys like Ben Brown and Trevor Bettencourt who are recovering from arm surgeries and technically missing less time due to the halted playing schedule?

Ben Brown and Trevor Bettencourt are two of my best friends in the organization, and it would be absolutely crazy for me to be jealous of them missing less time. Having been through rehab and them having my back throughout the entire process, those guys and others such as Kyle Young, Nick Fanti, Edgar Cabral to name a few, are who I pull for the most and want to see them succeed. I got to see Kyle Young’s first bullpen back from (Tommy John surgery) a week before spring training got cancelled, and it was honestly so much fun to watch. Just a huge milestone in the rehab process and I’m stoked to see what all those guys do when they come back!

-Have you had any luck finding all the key items during the pandemic like Lysol wipes, hand sanitizer and masks?

I haven’t had any success at all finding hand sanitizer, Lysol wipes or masks or anything like that. Even mid-March in Clearwater the local Target was completely wiped out. We made some masks and hand sanitizer at home so we’re okay for now.

-How have you been killing time during quarantine and do you have any recommendations for TV shows, books or video games for others?

For some reason the days have been flying by during this quarantine. I thought they would’ve been dragging and going by really slowly. I’ve just been playing a lot of guitar, playing card games, getting better at cooking and watching Netflix and TV shows. Highly recommend the Outsider which is on HBO!

-Outsider was pretty good. Gets my approval as well. I appreciate the time and stay safe.


Friday, April 17, 2020

PhoulBallz Interview: Lugnuts broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler

Please consider supporting my work and subscribe to my Patreon page.  Your patronage will get you exclusive interviews and early access to all of my other content.  Thank you.

Are you familiar with Jesse Goldberg-Strassler?  He is the voice of the Toronto affiliate Class A Lansing Lugnuts.  Ballpark Digest named him their 2019 Broadcaster of the Year and now he's here, answering my questions!

I asked Jesse about his early interest in the broadcast side of sports, how he got started in the profession, some key highlights from his career and so much more.  Read ahead for this interesting and enjoyable interview.

- Do you recall your earliest broadcasting memories and what appealed about the role to you?

I spent my childhood broadcasting games, baseball, basketball, or football, on the computer, on the basketball court while shooting hoops, or merely in my imagination. When I was a teenager, my father suggested I contact the local Minor League Baseball team’s broadcaster, Dave Collins of the Bowie Baysox, to ask about recording a tape demo. That was the first time it ever became real, and that was also when I realized how difficult broadcasting is.

- Was the hope ever to be the athlete rather than the broadcaster?

Sports was something fun to play with my friends, nothing more. I loved sports most when I was watching games on TV, listening to games on the radio, collecting baseball cards, or reading about them. I read everything I could about baseball, but it wasn’t because I wanted to be a star player.  It was just because I loved the game so much. Particularly the stories. Baseball anecdotes are so good.

As an athlete, I was a sensational seven-year-old ball player compared to my contemporaries, and then a grinding 12-year-old ball player. My glory days were short. But I did get a game ball for scoring the only run in a 28-1 loss.

- How did you begin doing broadcasting? What games/sports/levels were you doing at the start?

I began at Division-III Ithaca College, which I specifically attended in order to pursue broadcasting even though there was no broadcasting major and there were no broadcasting classes. Instead, there were meetings of everyone who wanted voluntarily to be involved in sports radio on an extracurricular basis, with an assignment offered aloud, everyone who was available raised their hand, and the sports director picked and chose people to handle different responsibilities based on who was trustworthy and capable. It was pretty close to entirely student-run.

There are two stations at Ithaca College, one internet only and the other with a strong FM signal; a student had to work their way up from producing to studio-hosting to color commentary in order to begin doing play-by-play. I entered with zero experience on the air. By the time I graduated, I had called Ithaca football, men’s and women’s basketball, two baseball games, one Cornell women’s hockey game, and I was the producer/host of the weekly sports talk call-in show.

- Have you ever taken an assignment for sports broadcasting that was less than ideal once you arrived on location?

I’ve called games in less than ideal spots, if that’s what you mean. I broadcasted a football game from outside the stadium in an echoing stairwell, which all the players used in order to reach their locker room. I broadcasted a basketball game in which we sat at the far corner of the court, beside a team bench, and were blocked from seeing anything any time players from that team stood up. Among the challenges I’ve faced in baseball, perhaps the most difficult was a stadium in which the outfield was poorly lit, so that every relatively deep fly ball disappeared. There’s another stadium where the windows are sealed shut in the press box, which I thought was terrible – until a plague of mayflies arrived off the Mississippi and swarmed everyone and everything. Those sealed windows served as a fine barrier between me and them, even though I could no longer see the game in order to broadcast it.

- Have there been any prospects that you've called games for, under-the-radar/not-highly-ranked guys, that you knew early on could be a real player?

Two Fort Wayne TinCaps/San Diego Padres for you in Fernando Tatis, Jr. and Luis Patino. I don’t think either one entered 2017 with great clouds of hype surrounding them, and it didn’t take long to see that they were both special.

Kevin Pillar was a non-prospect with the Lugnuts to begin 2012, and yet it was clear early that he was going to have a chance to make the Major Leagues. I’ll add in John Jaso, whom I saw with Montgomery, and Shane Bieber, who I don’t remember being hyped that highly when he arrived in Lake County. The key is this: The guy does something. The Midwest League, and other Minor League levels, are not necessarily difficult. It’s all about a player having the light bulb come on and make the game easier for himself.

- Pillar is a guy I would answer for that one question also, though I didn't get to see him and interview him till he was with New Hampshire in Double-A. You would have had an idea about him long before I did.

Kevin Pillar dove into the stands in Fort Wayne in the 9th inning one game and busted up his nose making a catch to help us win the game. He hit a grand slam in Dayton in the 9th to finish off a 6-for-6 game, tying the Midwest League record for hits in a game. He was Minor League magic. Scouts would come to see him and walk away shaking their heads, telling me, “He’s probably only a fourth outfielder in the Majors…but he’s a 32nd-rounder from a D-II school, and he’s going to make it."

- Best things about Lansing and that area? 

Because it’s the state capital, it’s in the center of Michigan, so it’s never too far to get anywhere. Also being the state capital, there’s a ton going on, with cool neighborhoods, great restaurants, and life in the shape of constant events and activities. And there’s Michigan State University about six minutes away down the road, which also adds life and great food and events.

- Lansing's got some cool promotions, alternate logos/colors and such. Do you get any input into that stuff and if not do you wish you could? 

I do get input. I bring wild ideas to my general manager, Tyler Parsons, on a regular basis. More often than not, it’s Tyler who comes up with the coolest ideas, which helps stimulate the rest of us with our own creative thinking. It’s an office that very much encourages me to see what we can push forward with.

- I recall you doing some remarkable stunts or gimmicks-- apologies if those terms aren't the nicest-- while broadcasting games. I am sure you know what I mean and I am hoping you can describe the effort and share some details about the inspiration for it. 

I don’t mind you calling them gimmicks. I created a weekly broadcaster podcast for the Toronto Blue Jays organization to give fans eyewitness accounts and updates about every Blue Jays Minor Leaguer they’ve heard of and haven’t heard of, a podcast idea that I believe every organization should have. I’ve broadcasted games in the stands and in the apartments overlooking center field, I stood the full game for Stand Up To Cancer Night, and I take pride in developing solutions for broadcasters, from writing The Baseball Thesaurus, to catalog and analyze the language we use to broadcast games, to creating a baseball broadcaster prep sheet, to make it easier for us to better prepare for each broadcast. I’m proud of how each of those latter two inventions have helped me and my colleagues.

My most well known tradition/stunt is my annual game re-creation broadcast, with live sound effects, paying tribute to the way baseball broadcasters used to have to call the game. In order to know where we’re going, we have to know where we’ve been, and the game re-creation feels like such a great way personally to understand how best to deliver an optimal radio broadcast to listeners. If I can’t see the game, what is it that I want to have described to me?

- Do you have a most memorable game at this stage that could hold its own in a story telling match up with other minor league broadcasters' biggest memories?

I think my go-to story is the night in Montgomery that Mobile reliever Matt Elliott accidentally locked himself in the bathroom before he could come out to take the mound in the bottom of the ninth. Mobile was forced to relieve him, with the new relief pitcher getting out of the ninth before giving up a walk-off in the tenth. Mobile boarded the bus to leave the park – and there was Elliott still locked in the bathroom, with the fire department doing its best to break the door down.

I could also tell of the night that started my annual re-creation broadcast tradition in 2008. Isaac Hess threw the first no-hitter in the history of the franchise, and I broadcasted it but didn’t see it.

- Who have you learned the most from during your career? Anything you'd like to say to that individual some day? 

The two play-by-play broadcasters who were most influential to me were Dave Raymond (in Brockton then, now with the Texas Rangers) and Jim Tocco (in Montgomery then, no longer working in baseball now). I have had the chance to tell them how much they’ve meant to me, and I will continue to tell them. I learned so much by working with both of them, particularly the importance of having fun while calling the game. A server once accosted Dave for his dinner order while he was on the air calling the first inning, so he integrated his order, including asking her for recommendations, into the play-by-play. Jim was a genius at including elements in the broadcast to keep you on your toes, with a word of the day that he would sneak in to see who was paying attention, music inspired by certain hitters, and anything else that came up. If either of us happened to reference something, like a George Carlin routine, he was going to play that routine in the middle of broadcasting the game. Both Dave and Jim could call the heck out of the biggest moments, and they could also entertain any listener during the down moments. That’s a combination every broadcaster should strive for.

- Do you keep any souvenirs from big Lugnuts moments or each season? 

Nope, not my style.

- You've been at it for more than a decade. What advice would you give to someone considering getting into sports broadcasting? 

First, find a vocal coach and learn how to properly use your voice. Second, broadcast and record yourself. Listen back to it. Choose one thing you liked and be proud of it. Choose another thing you’d like to do better and try again. Continue to broadcast and record yourself, slowly but surely improving everything you notice, one thing at a time, while taking heart in what you’re proud of. When you’ve got your recorded broadcast to the point that you no longer can find something that you would like to improve, reach out to a broadcaster in the business and ask for their thoughts. Work on whatever they tell you to work on, slowly but surely, and send them a recording of your improvement. If you do this, you’ll accomplish two feats: 1) You’ll get much better, and 2) You’ll have developed an important relationship.

The final thing this person should do is be brave. Put together a good resume, a good resume letter and an 8-10 min. half-inning demo, and start contacting baseball teams. Contact wooden-bat league teams, contact independent teams, contact everyone, and find someone who would like to hire you to be their broadcaster.

From that initial position as broadcaster for a team, you can continue to work on your broadcasting ability while building more relationships with people in the industry. Then it’s all about moving up as positions open, which comes from the mix of hard work and good luck.

- Can you talk about how weird it is to experience April without baseball? 

Growing up in Maryland, we have beautiful autumns. The leaves change colors and give you a great transition from summer to winter. The same occurs in Ithaca, NY. When I lived in Alabama, the leaves went from green to brown and there was no transition. We went from summer to blah. It didn’t feel right.

This year, we came out of winter, when baseball is annually there to greet us and welcome us to the greatest time of the year, and instead it’s just brown and blah. It doesn’t feel right.

- How are you spending your free time lately while you wait for baseball season? 

I’m parenting a delightful three-month-old baby. This is my silver lining, to be able to spend these days with my wife and son.

- That sounds perfect.  Speaking of perfect, what's your favorite ballpark food? 

I love a good, large, homemade soft pretzel, like they have with Ben’s Pretzels in South Bend. I try to limit myself to purchasing one per series, but it’s difficult. When I can find a ballpark that has them, too, I love getting a Hebrew National hot dog. It’s so tough to find kosher dogs in the minors. I could always purchase from the grocery store, but it’s not the same as getting one at the park.

-Follow up question about baseball cards from earlier...do you still have your collection and what are some standout items you recall having?

My full collection of baseball cards is in some 11 or 12 large boxes, alphabetically organized, at my parents’ house in Maryland, plus three binders filled with my favorite cards individually pulled and organized. I also have a small box of cards in Lansing, since I can’t help myself and purchase a pack every now and then from the local store. About specific cards: I travel to every game with a pen holder that has my Alan Trammell (and Paul Molitor) rookie card on one side and Lou Whitaker RC on the other side. I forget which set it was, but there was a set where you could get a metal insert card, and I pulled a Pat Burrell RC that made my day. Bowman was my favorite brand due to its preponderance of rookies, and I looked forward each year to the rookie-loaded Fleer Update sets, Topps Traded sets, and Bowman Prospect sets. I was convinced that the 1999 Fleer Tradition Update set, with Rick Ankiel and Matt Riley, was a gold mine.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

PhoulBallz Inteview: Catcher Herbert Iser talks baseball hiatus

Please consider supporting my work and subscribe to my Patreon page.  Your patronage will get you exclusive interviews and early access to all of my other content.  Thank you.

Phillies catching prospect Herbert Iser recenty had his first full minor league season put on hold due to the global pandemic.  The 22-year-old backstop was drafted in the 23rd round last year out of Dallas Baptist.

After making his pro debut, Iser notched a .221 average with a pair of homers and nine RBI in 37 combined games in the Gulf Coast League and with short-season Class A Williamsport.

Recently, I talked with Iser about how he's dealing with the baseball hiatus.  Read ahead for that interview.

-How is the time off from the sport impacting your training or lifestyle?

It’s pretty crazy because it’s supposed to be my first full season, but I’m doing in home training, run and throw in a park near my home and hitting beans (laughs).

- Can you describe what it was like getting the news that baseball would be halted completely? Had you reached Clearwater and how long had you been there?

It was pretty surreal. It’s crazy how you think just because it’s baseball this can’t reach us, but it’s a global thing, so we just have to deal with it, follow orders and hope for the best. And I was in Clearwater since 26th or 27th.

-What is the hardest or worst part of this hiatus?

Just being away from your teammates, coaches, and staff. We spent an entire offseason apart and just got back being around eachother and then get sent home pretty quick there after.

-Are you in touch with any of your Phils or college teammates and is everyone itching to get back to the field?

For sure. I talk to teammates everyday or every other day. We all want to play as soon as possible. It’s our job and we have waited months to finally compete and this happens.

-Have you been racing through any TV shows while on hiatus and is there anything you would recommend on TV (or video games or books) to others as a good way to pass time?

I've been playing plenty of MLB The Show.  And the only show I really got into was Ozark on Netflix.

-Are you a pro wrestling fan at all...if so, what did you think of Wrestlemania?

I was when I was younger, don’t follow it as much anymore.

-I am sure you still have friends in college that should be playing ball. What are your feelings for the guys that should be in this year's draft class with them not getting their full college season to show what they can do?

It’s tough for them and I feel for them. It’s hard preparing for months on end for it to be taken away in moments. I know plenty of teammates that had a good chance at the draft so hopefully it all works out for the better, whichever way It goes.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Over on Patreon

I've got some new content over on Patreon.com/PhoulBallz, including an early access interview with catching prospect Herbert Iser and exclusive interview excerpts from my chat with pitcher Albertus Barber.

Please consider supporting my work and subscribe to my Patreon page

Your patronage will help me continue to bring you exclusive interviews and early access to all of my other content.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Patreon Exclusive: Phillies OF prospect Matt Vierling Interview

Vierling w/ Lakewood in 2018, image- Jay Floyd
Phillies outfield prospect Matt Vierling enjoyed some success during the Phillies' abbreviated Grapefruit League campaign this spring.  In seven games, the 23-year-old went 3-for-7 with a pair of RBI and three walks. 

The righty batter spent the entirety of last season as a member of the Class A Advanced Clearwater.  Overall in his brief pro career to date, Vierling, who was the Phils' 5th round draft selection in 2018 out of Notre Dame, has tallied a .263 average with 12 home runs, 72 RBI and 29 stolen bases.  

Recently, I talked with Vierling about his experience with the big club this spring, the halt to the baseball schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic, being at home with his brother Mark, a collegiate second baseman for the University of Missouri and more. 

This interview is available exclusively for Patreon subscribers.  Please consider supporting my work by visiting Patreon.com/PhoulBallz and enjoy interviews that you can't get anywhere else and early access to loads of other content.