Monroe’s Mantra: “Sports Brings People Together”

by Jim Maggiore

The sold out crowd of approximately 450 people gave Earl Monroe a standing ovation when he was done speaking at the 4th annual induction dinner for the Greater Binghamton Sports Hall of Fame, which was held at the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Binghamton on Monday, April 23rd. Monroe’s theme during the night was one of unity, as he stressed that the beauty of sports is that it brings people together. He noted that when he played for the Knicks, he played alongside two Rhodes Scholars (Bill Bradley and Jerry Lucas), a doctor (Dick Barnett), and Walt Frazier, who remains a close friend to this day. “Basketball brought us all together and we still stay in touch today,” remarked Monroe.

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Monroe shares a laugh with the crowd. Roger Neel, master of ceremonies, especially enjoyed Monroe’s remarks.  

Regarding Frazier, who like Monroe was drafted in the first round of the 1967 basketball draft, Monroe explained that Walt told him early on that “New York was my town.” By focusing on bring a championship to New York, Monroe and Frazier overcame a slow start in their relationship to form a lifelong bond today.

“I grew up in Philadelphia and basketball made me move South in the 60s, as I went to play college ball at Winston-Salem University,” Monroe explained early in his speech. He then quickly demonstrated the aplomb that years of public speaking has taught him as he drew a round of laughter when he stated, “and being a black man and going from the North to the South in the 60s was probably the opposite of what a smart person might have done.”   As for his stay at Winston-Salem, it wasn’t without its challenges. Monroe explained how he wanted to transfer from Winston-Salem after his freshman year. “I was scoring all these points off the bench, but I wasn’t starting and I felt I should be playing more, so I told the coach I was going to leave. Early in this chat, coach stopped me and told me to wait a bit. He made a phone call, and told the person on the other end I planned to leave school.” Monroe now briefly paused in telling his story, as he stretched out the silence in the ballroom a bit. “My mother was on the other end and she told me in no uncertain terms that I was staying at Winston-Salem,” Monroe concluded as the ballroom broke out in appreciative laughter.

Regarding his trade to New York from Baltimore in time for the 1972 season, Monroe said that New York was his kind of town. “I liked to stay out late. I was the type of guy that liked to wake up at 11 at night and go out on the town. I liked the idea that New York was the city that never slept.” In further explaining his move from Baltimore to New York, Monroe subconsciously weaved his love of basketball with his lifelong love of music. “I had to adjust my rhythm to the rhythm of the Knicks, from where things revolved around me to where I had to fit in with my new team,” remarked Monroe as he started to swivel his hips a bit and subtly raise his arms up and down as if he were still dribbling a basketball.

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Two Champions share a moment. Monroe won his with the Knicks in 1973, while Bill Kenville, a 2018 GBSHOF inductee, won his with the Syracuse Nationals in 1955.

During his playing days Monroe not only had a smooth rhythm on the court, but he was also known for his moves off the court. After his playing days were over, Monroe worked in the music industry for forty years, producing various shows. Music has always held a special interest for him and the audience broke out in applause when he talked about a special song he produced. “One of my biggest post-playing days thrills was to produce a song titled ‘We are All One,’ I feel it was the most important song I ever was involved with.”

 

Besides focusing on the unity of sports, Monroe stressed the importance of making the most of the opportunities that one gets during the course of a lifetime. “Opportunity knocks at every door,” remarked Monroe, “but it’s up to you to unlock that door” he succinctly offered.

After finishing his speech, Monroe answered a series of questions from the audience. He left his audience laughing in one of his final remarks, as he referred to his autobiography, “Earl the Pearl: My Story,” which he coauthored with Quincy Trope in 2013, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Knicks’ championship. “I think we only sold ten or so copies and I signed them all tonight,” a smiling Monroe stated.

Hall Notes: The 15 GBSHOF inductees in the class of 2018:

  1. Chris Coleman, U.S. Olympian (bobsled)
  2. Doreen Denmon, softball
  3. Jason Goldman, wrestling
  4. Mark Gumble, wrestling
  5. George Herrick, soccer
  6. Richie Karl, golf
  7. Bill Kenville, basketball
  8. Frank Little, U.S. Olympian, trapshooting
  9. Tom Mitchell, hockey
  10. Ed Stack, sporting goods
  11. Michael Starke, tennis
  12. Frank Sorochinsky, wrestling
  13. Charlie Tarricone, basketball
  14. Randy Will, U.S. Olympian (bobsled)
  15. Tom Yelverton, pole vaulting.
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Magliozzi Becomes the Newest Rumble Pony as Bautista Gets the Call to Citi Field

26-year-old Johnny Magliozzi, a right-handed relief pitcher, is taking the Rumble Ponies’ bullpen spot of Gerson Bautista, who was called up to the majors by the Mets on Tuesday, April 17th. Magliozzi appeared in 44 games last season for St. Lucie, saving 6 games while posting a 3.16 E.R.A. in 67.2 innings. This year Magliozzi, who was drafted in the 17th round of the 2013 amateur draft by the Mets, allowed 1 earned run in two innings of work for St. Lucie.

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Magliozzi delivers a pitch with his three-quarters arm slot during a minor league game at Port St. Lucie this March. 

Bautista, 22, excelled in the early season for the Ponies, only allowing two hits in five innings and striking out eleven batters. The hard throwing Bautista, who can reach triple digits with his fastball,  came over to the Mets organization as part of the trade with the Red Sox for Addison Reed last August. The Red Sox signed Bautista as a free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2014.

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Bautista was all smiles on opening night (April 5th), when he got the last out of the game against Portland.  

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Impending Arrival at Citi Field for Tim Peterson?

Usually if a player is over 25-years old and has not had any major league playing experience he gets labeled as an organizational player—a player who is good enough to provide quality competition for prospects in the organization, but who lacks the talent to play in the big leagues. Every once in a while an exception to the rule begins to figure things out at a late stage in his professional development. This is the situation that Tim Peterson, a 27-year-old right handed reliever for the Las Vegas 51s, finds himself in at this writing.

Peterson’s stellar season for Double-A Binghamton last season, where he notched a 1.14 E.R.A in 41 appearances, surprisingly did not even get him invited to spring training with the Mets in February.  His career has been slowed by his 80-day suspension in 2015 for a positive test for a P.E.D. as well as being only a 20th round pick out of the University of Kentucky in the 2012 amateur baseball draft. But he has continued his outstanding stretch of pitching into 2018, not allowing a run with the Las Vegas 51s in his first six appearances, striking out 14 in 6 innings and outperforming all other Vegas pitchers.

With Mickey Calloway’s penchant for using his bullpen heavily at the major league level, it is only a short matter of time before Peterson gets the call to pitch at Citi Field.

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Peterson displays his “over the top” delivery and fastball grip with the Rumble Ponies in 2017.

 

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Crismatt Makes the Ball Dance Amidst the Snow

By Jim Maggiore

The Rumble Ponies beat the Portland Seadogs, 4-3, during on a snowy Sunday afternoon at NYSEG Stadium on April 8th. John Mora and Peter Alonso hit solo home runs to support the outstanding pitching of Nabil Crismatt, who threw six one-hit, shutout innings against Portland.

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Crismatt snaps off a cruve against Portland during a sunny moment in the day.

Crismatt had the Portland hitters off balance all afternoon, garnering seven strikeouts while not walking a batter. Crismatt’s pitches ranged from 66 mph to 87 mph; his curve ball was especially sharp, as he kept it breaking low in the strike zone. Crismatt threw his curve at two speeds – in the mid 60s and low 70s, which made his pedestrian fastball appear much faster. Crismatt also displayed a sharp breaking changeup and slider, locating them on the corners of the plate.  Crismatt moved the ball in and out, up and down all afternoon, rarely giving Portland hitters back-to-back looks at the same pitch.  Besides keeping the Portland hitters swinging at air throughout the afternoon, Crismatt also ignored the freezing temperatures as he took the mound in a short-sleeve jersey.

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Portland’s shortstop Jeremy Rivera blows on his hand as he tries to keep warm in the snow.

Diehard Binghamton baseball fans were reminded of Collin McHugh as they watched Crismatt on the mound. Not since McHugh pitched for Binghamton in 2011-2012 have Binghamton denizens seen a pitcher with such a sharp-breaking curveball. Only time will tell if Crismatt can go on to become a 19- game winner in the majors, as McHugh did in 2015, but at least for one game Crismatt showed he can be a magician on the mound.

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An animated Crismatt congratulates Alonso on his 7th-inning homer that gave Binghamton a 4-0 lead.

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Power and Pitching Provide Ponies with an Opening Day Win

by Jim Maggiore

Peter Alonso, Tim Tebow, and Jeff McNeil hit homers to account for all the runs in the Rumble Ponies 6-0 opening night victory over the Portland Sea Dogs.  Starting pitcher Drew Gagnon threw six shutout innings for Binghamton, keeping the Portland hitters off balance with excellent command of his curveball and changeup. Though Gagnon did not break 90 miles once on the radar gun, he got plenty of swings and misses with his excellent command and change of speeds. He struck out five Portland hitters and walked only one. Binghamton relievers Austin McGeorge, Adonis Uceta, and Gerson Bautista combined to shut out Portland over the final three innings, giving up only two singles while striking out six hitters.

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Alonso connects on his first inning two-run homer. According to many publications, Alonso is ranked as the fourth-best prospect in the Mets system.

Tebow’s first inning three-run homer essentially sealed the game, as it gave Binghamton a 5-0 lead. Only a few moments before Tebow’s blast, Peter Alonso had hit a two-run homer. Trailing 2-0 after Alonso’s blast, starting pitcher Teddy Stankiewicz briefly found his command, as he retired the next two hitters; but success did not stay with Stankiewicz; he issued two-out walks to outfielders Kevin Taylor and John Mora. As Tebow approached the plate for his first at-bat in Double-A, Portland’s catcher Austin Rei visited the mound to confer with Stankiewicz. “I figured the catcher was telling the pitcher to just come in with a fastball, so I anticipated a first-pitch fastball,” remarked Tebow in a short press conference after the game. “It felt nice to hit it the way I did.”

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Here’s Tebow’s home run swing on the very first pitch he sees in Double-A. Note how Teblow keeps his hands “inside the ball” as he gets ready to make contact. 

Binghamton managed only four hits in the contest; Stankiewicz settled down after giving up the Tebow homer, as he only allowed McNeil’s homer in the second and a triple by John Mora in the third. Despite a game-time temperature of 32 degrees and a brisk wind that blew from left to right, 5,218 fans attended the contest. Clearly they came out to cheer for Tebow and periodic chants of “Tebow, Tebow” broke out in the stands.

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John Mora is tagged out in the third inning. He led off the inning with a triple, but Tebow’s soft grounder to short resulted in Mora being thrown out at home. 

Perhaps the most impressive performance of the night, however, was the one inning pitched by Gerson Bautista, who struck out the side in the top of the ninth inning to close out the win for Binghamton Bautista overpowered Portland with a 96 mph fastball and a sharp breaking slider.  Bautista came over to the Mets when Addison Reed was traded to the Red Sox last season.

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Drew Gagnon was signed in the offseason as a free agent. He has pitched over 200 innings at the Triple-A level and relies on command and movement for success on the mound. 

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Matz Rebounds from Slow Start to Finish Spring Training in Fine Fashion

A few weeks ago in this space we asked “Is it Too Early to Worry About Steven Matz?”; well, now approximately three weeks later, Matz answered that question with a resounding “It was!” as he closed out spring training with four scoreless innings against the Marlins. Granted it was only spring training, but Matz finished with an E.R.A. slightly under two runs per game in his final 18.1 spring training innings, and struck out 20 batters. Keys to his turnaround included dramatically improved command and an improvement in finishing his pitches, throwing them with conviction, as well as completely following through each pitch.

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Matz throws his curveball against the Marlins on March 25th.

Matz’s pitches ranged from 77 mph to 95 mph; his fastball “sat” at 93/94, and touched 95. Approximately 65% of his pitches were fastballs and the other 50% were evenly split between his curveball and changeup. Here’s a complete breakdown of what I had for his pitches—bold indicates the start of a new inning.

  • 1) 93    14) 94    27) 94    40) 83
  • 2) 94    15) 85    28) 93   41) 92
  • 3) 93    16) 94    29) 79   42) 92
  • 4) 94    17) 94    30) 73   43) 92
  • 5) 94    18) 85    31) 84   44) 93
  • 6) 94    19) 94    32) 78   45) 92
  • 7) 86    20) 95    33) 93   46) 92
  • 8) 84    21) 94    34) 93   47) 83
  • 9) 93    22) 94    35) 93   48) 92
  • 10) 95  23) 80    36) 77   49) 93
  • 11) 85  24) 85    37) 93
  • 12)94   25) 85    38) 83
  • 13) 84 26) 93   39) 92

Matz established his fastball early and didn’t break out his curve until the close of the second inning. His changeup was especially effective, as he got a lot of swings and misses with it, caused by late, low movement. Matz pitched quickly and did not allow a hit in his first three innings. Based on his spring training results, the key to how successful of a season Matz has this year can be directly traced to how well he commands his pitches.  After the game Matz said his arm felt great.

Manager Mickey Calloway was succinct in his praise of Matz as he signed autographs for a few dozen fans after the game.  “Matz looked great” he said as he responded to a comment on Matz’s pitching.

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Matz begins his final spring training start with a fastball. Todd Frazier is in the background.

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Holding Runners Close and Picking them Off is a High Priority for the Mets

by Jim Maggiore

On Friday, March 23rd, while the stock market tumbled and the Mets stumbled against the Cards by a 5-1 score, I spent the day on the backfields of St. Lucie, where the Mets were hosting two minor league games against the Cardinals. The AAA teams of each organization played one another while a combination of Double-A and High-A players competed on an adjacent field. A bonus was that Todd Frazier, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Adrian Gonzales all got a number of at-bats, alternating between both games so they could get their 4 to 5 at-bats complete in about 45 minutes or so.

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Cabrera grounded out to second on this swing on the backfields of St. Lucie.

Before the 1 P.M. start of both games, the minor leaguers worked out for about ninety minutes. In watching the workouts and the two games, even the casual fan could not miss the emphasis the Mets organization is putting on limiting the running game of the opposition.

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Anthony Kay, the second overall draft pick of the Mets in 2016, practices his pickoff move to second. Kay didn’t see any action last year, as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. He is clasified as the prototypical “crafty lefty” at this point in his development; he went to the same high school as Steven Matz.

Multiple drills were held on having the pitchers get the ball out as fast as possible on pickoff throws. Frank Viola, pitching coach for the Double-A Rumble Ponies, granted each group of pitchers by exhorting “The purpose here is to be quick with the feet and quick with the ball. Get the ball to the base as quick as you can.” When a pitcher succeeded with a quick snap throw right on target, Viola bellowed “That’s what we’re looking for. Nice job.”

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Mickey Jannis, P.J. Conlon, and Corey Taylor go through “phantom windups,” as no baseballs are in sight.

In another drill, Glenn Abbot, Triple-A pitching coach for Las Vegas, supervised the pitchers as they went through their windup and pickoff moves without throwing the baseball; this “phantom dril” was to get to icnrease pitchers’ “muscle memory”  when it comes to controlling the running game. “What we want you doing here,” Abbot emphasized, “is get used to throwing the ball hard to the base every time. There’s no sense in lobbing the ball. A lot of times we can have a player picked off, but lose the chance because we’ve lobbed the throw. We want you getting that ball to the base quickly at all times.”

As for the outcomes of the games, both were largely uneventful, with pitchers largely dominating the action. Chris Flexen looked impressive in his start with the “Triple-A” team. Mark Vientos, the second round draft of the Mets in 2017, hit a home run in the other game, which largely comprised players ticketed for Double-A and Single-A ball this year.

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Rumors were prevalent on the backfields that Tim Tebow, smiling here as he converses with a teammate, will start the season at Binghamton.  More than one usher said it was a “done deal.” Will Binghamton become Rumbletown on April 5th? We’ll know for sure in less than two weeks.

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