TIME Baseball

NCAA Reports Big Jump in Home Runs With New Flat-Seam Ball

In this June 23, 2014, photo, Vanderbilt pitcher Walker Buehler throws in the second inning of the opening game of the best-of-three NCAA baseball College World Series finals against Virginia in Omaha, Neb.
Eric Francis—AP Vanderbilt pitcher Walker Buehler throws in the NCAA baseball College World Series finals against Virginia in Omaha on Jun 23, 2014

Teams are hitting 40% more home runs this season

(OMAHA) — The new flat-seam ball in college baseball is having the desired effect, with teams hitting 40 percent more home runs so far this season.

The NCAA announced Wednesday that teams are hitting a home run about every other game. Last year, teams homered about once every three games through the first three weeks of the season.

The actual average is 0.47 home runs per team compared with 0.33 at this point in 2014. Last season’s final average of 0.39 per team was a record low.

The flat-seam ball was introduced this season in an attempt to punch up a game that has seen steep declines in offense since new bat standards took effect in 2011. Studies show the flat-seam ball travels 20 feet farther than the old raised-seam ball.

“I guess the seams do matter,” said Eastern Michigan’s Mitchell McGeein, whose total of five homers in 13 games is one more than he hit all last season. “Last year, I got hold of some balls that should have been out, and they would end up getting caught. Now when I hit a ball the same way, I’m getting rewarded for it.”

Nevada’s Ryan Howell also is a fan of the new ball. He hit his nation-leading sixth home run in 12 games in his team’s 7-6 win over UC Davis on Tuesday. He totaled eight in 42 games for Chabot (California) Community College last year.

“Everybody is benefiting,” Howell said. “Ultimately, the ball is going to go farther. It’s cutting through the wind. You can see it fly off the bat.”

Nevada and Texas A&M are the national team leaders in home runs with 17 apiece. The WolfPack already are halfway to their 58-game total last season. The Aggies are only eight shy of their total in 62 games.

“We still have to play out the season, just to see what difference the ball truly does make,” A&M coach Rob Childress said. “But this small case study says it’s a positive thing for college baseball to bring excitement back to our sport.”

The increase in homers has occurred in spite of poor hitting conditions — cold weather — across much of the country. Childress said he’s curious to see if the numbers rise even more with warmer weather, or if there will be a decrease once teams begin playing conference games against better pitching.

Other key offensive statistics are generally unchanged. Per-team scoring is up from 5.07 runs a game the first three weeks in 2014 to 5.29 a game this year. The national batting average went from .263 to .264.

Childress said his team’s power numbers were so high during fall practices and scrimmages that he feared his pitching staff might not be very good. Nevada coach Jay Johnson said the same thing.

But A&M, at 13-0, is one of two unbeaten Division I teams. Virginia is the other. And Nevada, at 11-1, is off to the best start in program history.

The long ball gets a lot of credit.

“I’m an offensive-minded coach,” Nevada’s Jay Johnson said, “so I like the fact that the power element is back.”

TIME Baseball

The ‘Churro Dog’ Now Exists

Arizona Diamondbacks made the hot dog into a dessert

The Arizona Diamondbacks have finally come up with a way to make the ballpark staple hot dog into a dessert with their newest item, the Churro Dog.

The treat features a cinnamon and sugar coated churro topped with ice cream, whipped cream, caramel and chocolate sauce, and loaded onto a bun that looks like a Twinkie split in half.

Before the 2014 season the Diamondbacks unveiled the Dbat Dog, an 18-inch corn dog filled with cheese and bacon, which proved so popular with fans that Chase Field sold nearly 10,000 by the end of the season, according to ESPN.

This article originally appeared on SI.com.

TIME Baseball

Yankees Employee Fired For Vulgar Tweets About Curt Schilling’s Daughter

Former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling is honored before a game between the Red Sox and the Atlanta Braves on May 28, 2014 in Boston.
Boston Globe via Getty Images Former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling is honored before a game between the Red Sox and the Atlanta Braves on May 28, 2014 in Boston.

Yankees rep says they have "zero tolerance for anything like this"

The New York Yankees have fired a part-time ticket seller who allegedly sent vulgar tweets about the daughter of former MLB pitcher Curt Schilling, according to NJ Advance Media.

Last week, Schilling sent out a tweet congratulating his daughter, Gabby, who will be a member of the softball team at Salve Regina University in Newport, RI next year.

On Sunday, Schilling published a blog post detailing how he received many vulgar and sexually explicit responses about his daughter. Schilling posted screencaps of several of the tweets, focusing on two of the men in particular and giving identifying features.

The Dennis and Callahan Show of WEEI later identified one of the men as Yankees employee Sean MacDonald.

The team’s director of communications, Jason Zillo, told NJ Advance Media that MacDonald was hired in January and had worked about 18 hours over four days so far before being fired on Monday.

“We have zero tolerance for anything like this,” Zillo said. “We’ve terminated him.”

In his blog post, Schilling explained why he decided to screencap and call out the people who sent the tweets.

“These boys have yet to understand one of life’s most important lessons,” he wrote. “In the real world you get held accountable for the things you say and if you are not careful that can mean some different things.”

This article originally appeared on SI.com.

TIME Sports

See Photos from Minnie Minoso’s Early Days in Major League Baseball

'A Cuban who plays almost anywhere,' LIFE wrote in 1951, 'they just say, "Go on out there, son, and play any position that’s open."'

Orestes “Minnie” Minoso, who died Sunday at 90, held a number of titles during his long and storied baseball career. He was the first black Cuban player in Major League Baseball. The American League leader, at different moments, in hits, doubles, triples, sacrifice flies, stolen bases and total bases. Seven-time All-Star and, as he came to be known after a stellar 1951 season, “Mr. White Sox.”

But there was one title Minoso never managed to add to the list: Hall of Famer. At least, not at the hall of fame that mattered to him most. Though he was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame and the Mexican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame, he never made the trip to Cooperstown as an official inductee.

“My last dream is to be in Cooperstown, to be with those guys,” Minoso said a few years ago, after years of candidacy had gone unanswered.

But he did get to see a different dream realized in the months before he died, though it had nothing to do with at-bats or RBIs. When the news came in December 2014 that the U.S. and Cuba were resuming diplomatic relations after half a century, Minoso wrote for TIME, “I never thought this day would come in my lifetime.”

Minoso left Cuba in 1945 to play for the Negro Leagues and decided, in 1961, to leave for good, bidding farewell to his family forever. Reflecting on what the news meant for a possible return to his home country, Minoso wrote, “Maybe I’ll see some of the same trees, the same sugar fields, I remembered as a boy.”

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.

TIME

Here Are the Absurd Prices of 9 Items That Help Explain the Venezuela Crisis

People line up outside a state-run Bicentenario supermarket in Caracas, Jan. 9, 2015.
Jorge Silva—Reuters People line up outside a state-run Bicentenario supermarket in Caracas, Jan. 9, 2015.

From $800 sneakers to $31 Value Meals, here's a compilation of some of the most exorbitant prices.

Nowhere else has the collapse of oil prices has taken a higher toll than on Venezuela, where crude provides 95 percent of the country’s export revenue. Already facing recession, Venezuela is on the brink of economic collapse.

As that revenue dried up, the country has been thrown deeper into economic turmoil under President Nicolas Maduro. The economy is expected to contract by 7 percent this year, inflation soared to 69 percent—the highest in the world—and shortages of goods have forced shoppers to line up for hours at supermarkets to buy basic foods and products. The situation descended into the surreal earlier this week when the Prime Minister of neighboring Trinidad & Tobago proposed exchanging Venezuelan oil for Trinidadian tissue paper.

Meanwhile, the confluence of short supplies and government currency restrictions has distorted prices so much that some items are entirely inaccessible for Venezuelans who don’t have access to dollars—which is most of the country. Earlier this month, Bloomberg News reported that a 36-pack of Trojan condoms was available for 4,700 bolivars on the auction website, MercadoLibre, used by Venezuelans to obtain scarce good. According to the official exchange rate, that would amount to roughly $755. (According to the black-market rate for people with dollars, it would be closer to $25, Bloomberg reported.)

To check up on prices, TIME scanned the MercadoLibre auction site and and the crowd-sourced website Expatistan.com, which lists costs of various goods in stores. Here’s a compilation of some of the most exorbitant prices when converted into dollars according to the official exchange rate:

iPhone 5, in original box: $11,433

Rawlings Baseball Glove: $1,809

Nike Free: $796

Dog Food (3 KG): $288

Levi’s 501 Jeans: $405

Nescafe (170 grams): $232

Fast Food Combo Meal: $31

Laundry Detergent (100 Ounces): $31

12 Eggs: $10

TIME

Chewing Tobacco Could Be Banned In California Ballparks

Colorado Rockies v Milwaukee Brewers
Jeffrey Phelps—Getty Images A baseball and chewing tobacco before Colorado Rockies v Milwaukee Brewers baseball game at Miller Park on April 20, 2012 in Milwaukee.

Lawmakers want the substance, linked to cancer and nicotine addiction, thrown out of the homes of America's national pastime

Two California lawmakers are teaming up to take on a classic trapping of American baseball: chewing tobacco.

At a baseball field near the state capitol, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond introduced first-in-the-nation legislation on Wednesday that would prohibit the use of smokeless tobacco—including electronic cigarettes—wherever organized baseball is being played. San Francisco supervisor Mark Farrell is slated to introduce a similar bill in the coming days, which could put at ban in place at the San Francisco Giants’ stadium even if Thurmond’s measure fails.

If Thurmond’s bill passes, that would mean no more chaw for fans, coaches or players at the state’s five major league stadiums, as well as smaller ballparks.

On Tuesday, the Washington D.C.-based Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids announced their support for legislation that “will send a simple and powerful message to kids as spring training gets underway: baseball and tobacco don’t mix.” Advocates behind the measure are calling it the “Knock Tobacco Out of the Park” campaign, saying that the substance linked to cancer and nicotine addiction has no place in the homes of America’s national pastime. “We have a great opportunity to protect our players and stand up for kids by getting tobacco out of the game,” Thurmond said in a statement.

“It’s time for San Francisco and California to lead by example by showing our youth and the public that tobacco is proven to be harmful and has no place where our children play or look up to their favorite sports hero,” said Farrell.

Major League Baseball officials endorsed the idea in a statement on Tuesday:

“Major League Baseball has long supported a ban of smokeless tobacco at the Major League level. We have sought a ban of its use on-field in discussions with the Major League Baseball Players Association. Currently, players, managers and coaches cannot use smokeless tobacco during interviews or Club appearances. Personnel may not carry tobacco products in uniform when fans are in the ballpark. The use of smokeless tobacco has long been banned in the Minor Leagues, where the matter is not subject to collective bargaining.”

An official ban would have to be decided in coordination with the major league players association, and some have already expressed skepticism. “Some players are probably going to fight it,” Oakland A’s outfielder Josh Reddick told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I know players who put in a dip every inning.”

TIME Baseball

Alex Rodriguez Apologizes to Fans in a Handwritten Letter

Alex Rodriguez is seen in New York City on Jan. 21, 2015.
Alessio Botticelli—Getty Images Alex Rodriguez is seen in New York City on Jan. 21, 2015.

"I accept the fact that many of you will not believe my apology or anything that I say at this point."

Alex Rodriguez issued a handwritten apology addressed “to the fans” on Tuesday, saying he takes “full responsibility for the mistakes that led to my suspension for the 2014 season.”

Rodriguez missed all of last season due to a suspension for performance-enhancing drug use, the longest of its kind the league has ever given. From the letter:

“I regret that my actions made the situation worse than it needed to be. To Major League Baseball, the Yankees, the Steinbrenner family, the Players Association and you, the fans, I can only say I’m sorry.

“I accept the fact that many of you will not believe my apology or anything that I say at this point. I understand why and that’s on me.”

Rodriguez said the team offered him the opportunity to use Yankee Stadium to make the apology, but he decided “that next time I am in Yankee Stadium, I should be in pinstripes doing my job.”

“I’m ready to put this chapter behind me and play some ball,” he wrote.

The letter was handwritten.

Last week, the Yankees announced that Rodriguez apologized to the team “for his actions over the past several years” at a meeting with principal owner Hal Steinbrenner, president Randy Levine, general manager Brian Cashman, assistant general manager Jean Afterman and Jim Sharp, Rodriguez’s attorney.

Rodriguez, who turns 40 in July, has played for the Yankees since 2004. Though he won a World Series with New York in 2009 and was named the American League MVP in 2005 and 2007, Rodriguez’s relationship with the team has soured considerably.

In 2013, he sued Yankees team physician Dr. Christopher Ahmad and New York-Presbyterian Hospital for allegedly mishandling his medical care during the 2012 playoffs. He withdrew the case last June.

In August 2013, the 14-time All-Star was suspended 211 games for his involvement in the Biogenesis steroid scandal. He was allowed to play while appealing the suspension, which was reduced in January 2014 to 162 games. Rodriguez filed a lawsuit in federal court in an attempt to get the shortened suspension overturned, but he later dropped the suit.

Rodriguez, who hasn’t played a full season since 2007 because of the suspensions and leg injuries, has three seasons and $61 million remaining on his 10-year contract. The team could dispute five $6 million payments Rodriguez would be owed for historic achievements as part of a marketing deal negotiated at the time of the 10-year, $275 million contract extension he signed in November 2007.

Cashman has said New York plans to move Rodriguez from third base to designated hitter this season.

This article originally appeared on SI.com.

TIME Baseball

Jason Giambi Retires After 20 Years

Cleveland Indians v Detroit Tigers
Mark Cunningham—Getty Images Jason Giambi #72 of the Cleveland Indians looks on while batting during the game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on Sept. 14, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan.

He played for four MLB teams over the course of his career

Twenty-year MLB veteran Jason Giambi announced his retirement in a statement to the New York Daily News on Monday.

Giambi played for four teams over the course of his career, spending the first seven with the Oakland Athletics before spending another seven with the New York Yankees. He also spent time with the Colorado Rockies before ending his career with two years in Cleveland.

The 44-year-old played in just 26 games for the Indians in 2014, hitting .133 with two home runs. Giambi finishes with a career .277 batting average, 2,010 hits, 440 home runs, 1,441 RBI and a .399 on-base percentage.

From his statement:

“Ever since I was five years old, all I ever wanted to be was a Major League Baseball player. The Oakland A’s, New York Yankees, Colorado Rockies and Cleveland Indians were a big part of helping that dream come true.”

Giambi was the 2001 American League MVP and was named an All-Star in five straight seasons from 2000 to 2004. In 2000 he hit. 333 with a .476 on-base percentage, 43 home runs and 137 RBI.

In 2003, Giambi was linked to the FBI’s investigation of BALCO and a year later he admitted to using several different steroids during the off-seasons from 2001 to 2003. In a 2007 apology, he told USA Today he “was wrong for using that stuff.”

“I want to thank the fans for being a part of this incredible journey. I especially want to thank the fans that gave me a second chance to let me show you the human being you see today,” he said in his retirement statement.

Giambi’s brother, Jeremy, also played six seasons in the majors before retiring in 2003.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME Baseball

Little League Strips Team of U.S. World Series Title

Members of the Jackie Robinson West Little League baseball team participate in a rally in Chicago celebrating the team's U.S. Little League Championship. on Aug. 27, 2014.
Charles Rex Arbogast—AP Members of the Jackie Robinson West Little League baseball team participate in a rally in Chicago celebrating the team's U.S. Little League Championship. on Aug. 27, 2014.

Jackie Robinson West knowingly violated residency rules by using ineligible players

Jackie Robinson West, the United States champion at the 2014 Little League World Series, agreed to vacate its title after knowingly violating residency rules, Little League announced Wednesday.

Mountain Ridge Little League and its team from Las Vegas, Nev., was awarded the 2014 U.S. Little League World Series Championship. Las Vegas officials had said that Jackie Robinson West should be stripped of its title but didn’t ask the organization to the declare its team the champion.

Jackie Robinson West’s manager, Darold Butler, was suspended from Little League activity, and Illinois District 4 Administrator Michael Kelly was removed from his position.

Little League Baseball opened an investigation to determine if the Chicago-based team used players that resided outside of the geographic area that it represents. An investigation showed that the team used an inaccurate boundary map and met with outside neighborhoods and districts in Illinois to recruit players to build a competitive team.

“For more than 75 years, Little League has been an organization where fair play is valued over the importance of wins and losses,” Little League International CEO Stephen D. Keener said in a statement. “This is a heartbreaking decision. What these players accomplished on the field and the memories and lessons they have learned during the Little League World Series tournament is something the kids can be proud of, but it is unfortunate that the actions of adults have led to this outcome.”

Kaiser said the decision to strip Jackie Robinson West of its title “was necessary to maintain the integrity of the Little League program.”

Jackie Robinson West became the first all-African-American squad to win the U.S. title, beating Las Vegas before losing the championship to South Korea.

This article originally appeared on SI.com.

TIME Baseball

Yankees Slugger A-Rod Apologizes for Misconduct

New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez runs to third base in their MLB American League baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Boston, Massachusetts, August 18, 2013
Dominick Reuter—Reuters New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez runs to third base in their MLB baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Boston on August 18, 2013

"As far as the Yankees are concerned, the next step is to play baseball in spring training"

Alex Rodriguez apologized to New York Yankees top executives on Tuesday, ahead of his return to professional baseball after a yearlong suspension for steroid use.

The strain was created when Rodriguez, widely considered one of the top talents to ever play the game, was suspended for the 2014 Major League Baseball (MLB) season as punishment for his role in the Biogenesis of America steroids scandal that ensnared the MLB in 2013.

In an effort to reverse the suspension, the three-time American League Most Valuable Player sued MLB, its players’ union and a Yankees team physician.

The Yankees and Rodriguez issued a joint statement on Tuesday.

“Alex initiated the meeting and apologized to the organization for his actions over the past several years,” the statement said. “There was an honest and frank discussion on all of the issues. As far as the Yankees are concerned, the next step is to play baseball in spring training.”

Rodriguez, who turns 40 in July, is set to make $61 million over the next three years, thanks to a 10-year $275 million contract he signed in 2007.

According to ESPN sources, Rodriguez will also apologize to the media prior to the start of spring training in late February.

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