Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sealing the Leake

I once said "I like Ike," so I can also find an appropriate reason to say "I like Mike." That's Mike Leake, a former baseball standout at Arizona State University, in the role of a righthanded pitcher, as well as an infielder/outfielder who is also on the list of the great up and coming ballplayers that I recorded images of with my own cameras over the course of the last few years.

For Mike Leake, being selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the first round of the 2009 amatuer player draft as a pitcher, then going to the 2009 Arizona Fall League and working out with the Reds during 2010 Cactus League Spring Training as a non-roster invitee worked out much better than most had anticipated.

It would earn him a spot on the Reds 25 man roster as the fifth starting pitcher for the Reds, beating out Travis Wood and another highly regarded pitching prospect in Aroldis Chapman, as well as becoming another of many players to make the big league roster without having to play a day in the minor leagues.

I waited quite a while for a chance to watch Leake in action during the regular season and finally got the chance on May 20, 2010, when his Cincinnati Reds were broadcast on Major League Baseball Network for the "Thursday Matinee" game, when the Reds took on the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field in Atlanta that afternoon.

Mike and his team broke out with an 8-0 lead over the Braves by the 2nd inning and he would even help himself out going 2 for 3 at the plate, though not driving in any runs. On the mound, Mike would pitch 6 innings, allowing 5 hits, 1 base on balls and striking out 6 batters.

Despite Mike's good performance, he and the Reds were not able to hold onto their big lead and would lose to the Braves in dramatic fashion in the bottom of the ninth inning. Reds leftfielder Laynce Nix, who had hit a home run to pad his teams lead in the top of the fifth inning, had a high fly ball hit by Brave's pinch-hitter Brooks Conrad bounce off his glove to clear the fence for the game winning grand slam home run. Oddly enough, Reds first baseman Joey Votto also hit a grand slam home run, in the top of the second inning. You don't see two in one game very often these days.

Mike Leake, despite the disappointing loss for his team, was able to show playing prowess in many areas that day, to include at bat and in the field, often looking a lot like the good infielder he was when I saw him during his playing days at Arizona State University. For the Reds he wears jersey number 44, a number more common in baseball with big hitters, Hank Aaron and Reggie (Mr. October) Jackson just to name a few.

With Stephen Strasburg continuing to do well in Triple-A ball in the Washington Nationals organization, as well as Mike's former ASU teammate Ike Davis with the New York Mets, Jason Heyward with the Atlanta Braves, and recently Starlin Castro with the Chicago Cubs, I meant what I said when I mentioned the fact that the race for the NL Rookie of the Year award will be a tight one this season, just like what's expected of the races for playoff spots and division tiles can be.

My hat's off to all the up and coming young players who are on the verge of making good names for themselves and our national pastime. It's going to be an interesting 2010 season in that regard and hopefully, many others. It's still early in the 2010 Major League Baseball season. The best is yet to come.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Starlin is Born

Here we have again,this time for the Chicago Cubs, another young pro baseball player who's rapidly making his way up the ranks of the ladder of our national pastime, whom I also enjoyed the opportunity to photograph in action during both the 2009 Arizona Fall League and the 2010 Cactus League Spring Training games.

Starlin Castro, like many pro ballplayers of the past, present, and future, (I'm sure) is from the Dominican Republic, born in Monte Christi on March 24, 1990, the same day I was blessed with the daughter (Trenise) that I'd always wanted and now love very much, just as I love the game of baseball.

Starlin performed very well in both the Fall League and Cactus League for the Cubs, earning a spot on the roster of the Tennesee Smokies, the Double-A level minor league team for his parent club.

Starlin's call to his big league club, on May 7, 2010, gave him the distinction of being the first major leaguer born in the 1990's. He would celebrate that occassion with a three-run home run in his debut at-bat, followed later in the game with a three run triple. His 6 RBI's in that game are now a record for a major league debut.

Baseball America is calling Starlin the Chicago Cubs best prospect for 2010 and his fielding capabilities, with the possibility of a gold glove in the future, would be the eventual icing on the cake of his playing career.

The competition for the 2010 National League Rookie of the Year award may be a little stiffer than some of us first thought.Starlin, along with Jason Heyward, Ike Davis, and maybe even Stephen Strasburg, may take the race for that distinction right down to the wire, just like some races for playoff spots, division titles, etc. often go.

As for the Chicago Cubs, the addition of Starlin Castro may send them on the right path to break that World Series curse, maybe not anytime soon, but hopefully sometime in my lifetime.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Even Stephen

Stesphen Strasburg is another strong up and coming professional baseball player who's well on his way to the big show.

The number one overall pick of the 2009 Major League Baseball amatuer draft this right-handed pitcher had a memorable collegiate career at San Diego State University, under head coach and former major leaguer, now hall of famer Tony Gwynn.

His strong showing came in his sophomore and junior seasons with ERA's of less than 2.00 along with more than 100 strikeouts in less than 100 innings pitched. Stephen seemed unhittable at times with a fastball in the vicinity of 100 miles per hour and a curveball in the 80 mile an hour range on the mound for the Aztecs.

After being drafted number one by the Washington Nationals Stephen pitched a one-hitter vs. the Netherelands at the 2008 Olympic games in Bejhing for team USA and would soon make his pro baseball debut for the Phoenix Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League.

I had a nice time photographing Stephen in action during the Fall League season and was glad to hear that he would be assigned to the Double-A level Harrisburg Senators to begin his minor league stint in the Washington Nationals organization.

On May 4, 2010 Stephen was promoted to the Triple-A level Syracuse Chiefs, pitching six innings in his first start, striking out six, allowing only one hit and one base on balls.

Most people in the game predict his major league debut sometime this Summer, perhaps as early as June. Wether that happens or not, I see a great career ahead for the prospect named #1 by Baseball America for 2010.

Friday, May 7, 2010

K.J. Bowen

It's been a great opportunity I've had for the last two years, photographing the up and coming young atheletes at Peoria High School, but there weren't too many that were better than the 2009 season and senior wide receiver Keith (K.J.) Bowen Jr.

Week after week, K.J. was one of the players that I found being the subject of a lot of the good photo galleries featuring himself and his team during his final season of playing football for his Peoria High School Panthers. His style of play, both pass receiving as well as ball carrying gave me the feeling he had a chance to go a long way in this game.

A good player and a well mannered young man as I remember the game at Saguaro High School in Scottsdale on September 17, 2009. Sometime during that game, in the first half if I remember correctly, K.J. hurtled out of bounds, narrowly mising me, but knocking over a female photographer on the sideline, even delaying the game just out of personal concern for her. As I remember, she was slightly bruised, but OK.

K.J. would continue his superb performance during the course of the next month, giving me the chance to record some of the best images of a young athelete that I've ever gotten to this day. These images I have in my PC files and hope to preserve for a lifetime.

On April 19, 2010 K.J. was thrown another superb pass, this one not from his own team quarterback in Caleb Gillespie, but from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. K.J. caught that pass and took a long and final run to the goal line of the heavenly body. Our Heavenly Father stood up and raised both arms to signal the touchdown.

My heart will always be heavy for this young man and my thoughts and prayer will always be with his family and friends. Like everyone else, I can only wonder what could've been. His eye from above will always be on all of us just as my eye and camera will alway be on the talented young athletes like the one he was. K.J., thank you so much for the great opportunity. You will be missed.