Under Reconstruction

Whether it is an update to WordPress 4.5 or to the latest update to our Theme, one or the other caused us to lose the ability to use our custom banner, so we’ve brought back our old, original theme, for now, just to be able to use a version of our banner. It’s kind of like wearing a throwback jersey. 🙂

We will be attempting to resolve this issue and/or looking for a new “look” for our blog. In the meantime, we will continue to post occasional articles, even if the site itself doesn’t look quite the way we would like it to.

Steve

 

April is Critical for Some Minor Leaguers

The Minnesota Twins and their full season minor league affiliates announced those affiliates’ initial rosters on Sunday and Monday this week and the one thing that stood out about almost every roster was the number of players returning to the same level where they finished their respective 2015 campaigns.

The Cedar Rapids Kernels initial roster, for example, includes 16 players that also wore Kernels uniforms last season and many of them performed quite well in the Class A Midwest League – well enough that, in most years, they’d have been promoted this spring and challenged to prove themselves at the next level.

But this isn’t most years, not in the Twins organization, anyway.

Randy led the Kernels staff with 9 wins and posted a 3.03 ERA in 2015. He will be the Opening Day starter for Cedar Rapids in 2016. (Photo: SD Buhr)
Randy LeBlanc led the Kernels staff with 9 wins and posted a 3.03 ERA in 2015. He will be the Opening Day starter for Cedar Rapids in 2016. (Photo: SD Buhr)

The Big League club came to spring training with few roster spots to fill. The clear strategy to fill the few spots they did have – primarily back up spots in the outfield and at catcher, along with left handed bullpen arms – was to sign a number of potential candidates to minor league contracts with invitations to the Twins’ Major League spring training, allow them to compete with whatever internal options might be candidates and open the season with whoever makes the best impression in camp.

Not surprisingly, that left the Twins with a large number of extra minor leaguers left over after the big club’s Opening Day 25-man roster was announced.

As a result, the Triple-A affiliate Rochester Red Wings will start the season with a roster that includes, by my count, about 10 guys who were not members of the Twins’ organization at the end of the 2015 season and the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts have maybe five more. Most of these newcomers were signed in the offseason as minor league free agents, but that isn’t the case with all of them. (Dan Palka, for example, was acquired via offseason trade.)

The result was inevitable.

Minor league baseball is a numbers game and it’s not all that difficult to figure out how it works for all but the hottest of an organization’s best prospects.

If you’re a minor league player at the low levels of the organization, you get a couple of years to figure out the game in short-season rookie ball and, if you show some level of competency or promise of competency, you move up to Class A, the first level of full-season professional baseball.

From that point on, each year, one of three things happens: The club determines that you’ve reached the level of competition at which you cannot compete and you’re released; you don’t put up stellar numbers, but you show enough promise that the club isn’t going to give up on you, so they send you back to the same level to start the next season; or you perform well enough for the club to want to see how you handle the challenge of the next level of competition and therefore get promoted to that next level.

Sam Gibbons posted a 2.89 ERA in 15 starts for the Kernels in 2015. He's back in Cedar Rapids to start 2016.(Photo: SD Buhr)
Sam Gibbons posted a 7-4 record and a 2.89 ERA in 15 starts for the Kernels in 2015. He’s back in Cedar Rapids to start 2016.(Photo: SD Buhr)

Of course, there are always exceptions and nuances. Players may get a mid-season or late-season promotion to a new level and then start the following year at the same level or may suffer an injury that results in a need to repeat a level. That’s why, typically, a community like Cedar Rapids will see a handful of familiar faces each spring when the new batch of Kernels arrives.

You don’t see 16 familiar faces, though.

It’s a safe bet that, among that 16, there are some players that feel pretty strongly that they did enough for the Kernels a year ago that they should be busing around the Sunshine State with the Fort Myers Miracle this month rather than wearing parkas in the Kernels’ dugout. And they’re right, they should be.

And I’m sure there are a similar numbers of guys in Fort Myers that think they should be in Chattanooga.

It’s pretty clear, from comments made by Kernels manager Jake Mauer and some of his players this week, that this is a subject that Mauer has addressed with his team.

Cedar Rapids Gazette reporter Jeff Johnson interviewed Mauer on Monday and among the manager’s comments was this:

“I’m not going to lie to you. There are a number of guys in our clubhouse that should probably be up, that either pitched or hit their way out of this league. But because of strength of organization, they are here. You try to convey to them that ‘You are here, don’t feel bad. You’ve got to go after it, you’ve got to put up numbers.’”

The trio of players – pitchers Randy LeBlanc and Sam Gibbons, along with infielder Chris Paul – that were fed to local media for a group interview on “Meet the Kernels” Night on Tuesday were asked by Johnson about the level of disappointment that players who played well for the Kernels last season were having to start this year back in Cedar Rapids.

LeBlanc, who has drawn the Opening Day start this week for the Kernels, was frank, but responded well.

“I’m not going to beat around the bush, it was pretty disappointing at first,” LeBlanc conceded. “Jake’s been kind of pounding into our head, since the rosters have been set, that you can’t go into it bitter. You’ve got to just play your way out of here. Just stay positive, just be happy you made a roster, stuff like that. I definitely think (several) of us did pretty well last year, but just go out there and do our best and see what happens.”

Gibbons then added, “As long as we’ve got a jersey, we’ve got an opportunity.”

Unlike LeBlanc and Gibbons, Paul was a relative late-comer to the Kernels last season, joining the team near the end of the season and contributing to the team’s postseason run which ultimately ended one win short of a Midwest League championship.

“It’s a little bit different for me. I came up a little bit late,” Paul said, on the subject at hand. “These guys spent the whole season – most of the season – here, so I think a lot of guys proved themselves, obviously, like Randy said. But like they said, we’ve still got an opportunity, so you’ve just got to continue to perform and prove that you should be somewhere else.”

It’s clear that the, “don’t let yourselves be bitter, be glad you have a roster spot and go out and prove you deserve to move up,” message has been delivered – and it’s a very important message.

You could argue that it’s not fair that many players in the Twins system didn’t get the promotions this spring that they earned with their hard work and performances last summer. But professional baseball often is not fair. (Players need only look at their paltry paychecks to be reminded of that.)

And this is not a permanent situation.

It’s understandable that the Twins would give most of the players they signed to minor league free agent contracts an opportunity to show what they can do in some regular season games and, while the organization is still widely heralded as having one of the best stocked minor league systems in baseball, that cycle won’t last forever.

But neither will the opportunities being extended to these minor league free agents last forever. I give it a month.

By the middle of May, I believe we’ll see minor league affiliate rosters that look a lot more like what most of us – and, clearly, many of the organization’s players – thought we would see. I expect those free agents will get about a month to show the Twins’ evaluators why they should keep their roster spots in Rochester and Chattanooga over guys that have come up through the system and expected to be playing at the next level this spring.

Some of the new players will stick and that’s a good thing. Talent is talent, whether the player came up through the Twins’ system or somewhere else and minor league baseball is one of the purer forms of meritocracy you’ll find anywhere.

This little blip in the normal process makes it more critical than ever that players follow the advice being given to them to focus on their own performances and not give in to what must be a sometimes overwhelming urge to get angry to the point of distraction.

Because, just as sure as some of those minor league free agents will fail to impress and find themselves looking for other work, the same thing could happen to some players that finished strong with a Twins affiliate a year ago, but couldn’t back it up with a strong start to 2016.

Every year, observers of minor league teams like the Kernels see players move up and players move down and players move out. The team you finish a season with never resembles the team you started with. It’s the reason lower level minor leagues like the Midwest League have split seasons, with division standings reset after the mid-season All-Star break.

Most of the roster changes resulting from promotions and demotions don’t usually start becoming regular until June. This year, in the Twins organization, things could get interesting for many players much sooner.

-Steve

Cedar Rapids Welcomes the 2016 Kernels

A modest, but devoted, crowd of fans, staff and host parents greeted manager Jake Mauer, his field staff and 24 players to Veterans Memorial Stadium with applause and a handful of signs as they stepped off their bus from the Cedar Rapids airport early Monday evening.

It was upwards of 70 degrees in Florida when the team departed their Fort Myers spring training camp earlier in the day and many of the players were still sporting the short sleeve sport shirts that were more appropriate on departure than they were upon arrival at their new home, where temperatures hovered a degree or two on one side or the other of 40 degrees.

Mr Shucks spends some time with young Kernels fans while they wait for the team's bus to arrive.
Mr Shucks spends some time with young Kernels fans while they wait for the team’s bus to arrive.
Manager Jake Mauer steps off the bus to the applause of local fans. (Photo: SD Buhr)
Manager Jake Mauer steps off the bus to the applause of local fans. (Photo: SD Buhr)
Young Kernels fans greeting the arriving 2016 Kernels
Young Kernels fans greeting the arriving 2016 Kernels

After arriving and settling into his office, Mauer confirmed that pitcher Michael Cederoth, originally listed as a member of the initial Kernels roster, did not make the trip to Cedar Rapids with the team. The manager indicated that Cederoth has an issue with his back and that no final decision has yet been communicated concerning who will take his spot on the active roster.

The Kernels will get a formal welcome from media and fans on Tuesday evening, between 5:00 and 7:00, with an introduction of the players and a short workout open to the public beginning at 7:00, weather permitting.

The Quad Cities River Bandits will visit Cedar Rapids on Thursday to open the 2016 season. Game time is 6:35.

-Steve

Who’s Going to Win in 2016?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the upcoming 2016 Major League season and I’ve gone through every division thoroughly enough to make predictions that I am absolutely confident in.

ouijaYeah, that’s a lie. In fact, that sentence included multiple lies. I’ve barely given a passing thought to the likely fortunes of any team in the National League, I can’t honestly say I’ve thoroughly considered any division and I’m not at all confident my predictions will be anything close to accurate.

Yet, here we are. The season is underway so I might as well make some predictions. After all, if I’m way off, I’ll never mention them again, but if I benefit from a healthy dose of dumb luck, I’ll have opportunities later in the season to link back to this post as evidence of how smart I am. Win-win.

Let’s start with the National League.

NL East:

1 – Nationals, 2 – Mets, 3 – Marlins, 4 – Phillies, 5 – Braves

Almost everyone seems to be handing this division to the Mets, but I think the Nats’ roster is just better and Dusty Baker will whip that roster from start to finish. Of course, he may whip them so hard that the organization won’t be competitive again for a decade, but that’s a different issue.

Ordinarily, I couldn’t imagine any way the Phillies would escape the division cellar, but that was until I looked at the Braves’ roster.

NL West:

1 – Giants, 2 – Dodgers, 3 – Diamondbacks, 4 – Padres, 5 – Rockies

As with the Mets, the Giants seem to be the consensus pick in their division. The Dodgers could be very good, but they also could be very mediocre. The Giants, at worst, will just be good, so I’ll take my chances with them.

NL Central:

1 – Pirates, 2 – Cubs, 3 – Cardinals, 4 – Reds, 5 – Brewers

Going back to swimming against the tide, I’m not going with the popular pick, which would be the Cubs. It has nothing to do with really not liking the Cubs or Cubs fans. Yeah, that’s another lie. It has everything to do with not liking the Cubs or their fans.

I do, however, really like the roster the Pirates have assembled and I think they’ll do very well.

NL Wild Card: I’m going with the Mets and Dodgers because the bottom three teams in their divisions are worse, in my opinion, than the bottom three in the Central. Oh, and I really don’t like the Cubs.

I’ll pick the Giants to win the National League pennant.

AL East:

1 – Blue Jays, 2 – Yankees, 3 – Red Sox, 4 – Rays, 5 – Orioles

I’m not sure there’s a division in baseball with one team that is more clearly the favorite, in my mind, than the AL East. Maybe the Red Sox will be much improved and maybe the Yankees will find the fountain of youth. I don’t think either is particularly likely, but one (or both) could happen and the Jays could still be good enough to take the division.

AL West:

1 – Astros, 2 – Mariners, 3 – Rangers, 4 – Athletics, 5 – Angels

I’d love to say I see the Astros regressing, but it’s just not likely. The Rangers are a popular dark horse pick, but I just don’t see it. I can, however, see Seattle bouncing back up into relevancy before Felix Hernandez’s career is completely wasted by the Mariners. And speaking of an organization completely wasting a future Hall of Famer’s career, the Angels are going to stink again, despite having the best player in baseball playing centerfield for them.

AL Central:

1 – Twins, 2 – Royals, 3 – Tigers, 4 – Indians, 5 – White Sox

I have three reasons for picking the Twins to win this division. One, I genuinely see them being much better than they were a year ago (at least if the decision to keep Nolasco in the Opening Day rotation is the last really costly decision the front office makes); two, there is no position in baseball in which one season’s exceptional performance is less likely to be repeated than that of relief pitcher and the Royals will not repeat if their bullpen suddenly becomes anything short of extraordinary. Combine that with three other teams who I simply can’t see as likely to be terribly strong and it means the Twins could see opportunity knock. Oh, and third, I really want to be able to point back to this post in October if the Twins do win this thing.

AL Wild Card: The Royals should easily get one of these spots. Frankly, I could see the Tigers getting the other, but I’m going to go with the Mariners because the AL West competition will be the worst of the three AL divisions.

I’ll take the Blue Jays to win the AL pennant and take home the championship trophy over the Giants in the World Series.

Now, please forget these picks unless and until a significant number of them turn out to be right and I link back to this post six or seven months from now.

-Steve

Kernels’ Opening Day Roster Announced

The Cedar Rapids Kernels and their Major League affiliate, the Minnesota Twins, have announced the club’s Opening Day roster and there are a healthy number of players that should be familiar to Kernels fans as 16 of the 25 members spent time with the Kernels at some point during the 2015 season.

The Kernels will open with a 13-man pitching staff and, as has generally been the case since the Twins/Kernels affiliation began in 2013, they appear poised to utilize a 6-man starting pitching rotation.

Indications are that the rotation will include returning arms Michael Cederoth, Sam Clay, Sam Gibbons, Randy LeBlanc and Dereck Rodriguez, along with newcomer Andro Cutura.

Sam Gibbons (Photo: SD Buhr)
Sam Gibbons (Photo: SD Buhr)

The bullpen will have Nick Anderson, John Curtiss, CK Irby, Michael Theofanopolous and Zack Tillery returning to Cedar Rapids, while Kuo Hua Lo and Logan Lombana will be getting their first looks at the Midwest League.

Rafael Valera saw time in the Kernels’ infield a year ago and, since the end of last season has been learning a new position. He will be one of three catchers to open the season in Cedar Rapids and will be joined by new Kernels receivers Bryant Hayman and AJ Murray.

Like Valera, Jorge Fernandez returns to the Kernels to learn an new position. After primarily catching during his time with Cedar Rapids, Fernandez now will be manning an outfield spot. Max Murphy and LaMonte Wade will also be returning to the Kernels outfield and Chris Cavaness will be the lone newbie in Manager Jake Mauer’s outfield.

Sean Miller (Photo: SD Buhr)
Sean Miller (Photo: SD Buhr)

Infielders Sean Miller and Chris Paul saw time with the Kernels last season and will return in 2016, being joined in the infield by Zander Wiel, Luis Arraez and Jermaine Palacios.

Mauer will be returning for his fourth season at the Kernels’ helm. Mauer has had a different pitching coach in each of his seasons leading Cedar Rapids and that trend continues in 2016. JP Martinez will be the fourth Kernels pitching coach in as many years. Brian Dinkelman will serve his first year under Mauer as the Kernels’ hitting coach.

The Kernels are schedule to arrive in Cedar Rapids shortly after 6:00 pm Monday evening and the club is encouraging fans to join a welcome rally in the Veterans Memorial Stadium parking lot at 6:30.

The annual “Meet the Kernels” event for fans will be held on Tuesday evening, beginning at 5:15 pm. Fans will be able to meet and chat with players and staff on the concourse. At 7:00, Mauer will formally introduce the players fans after which the team will go through their first workout on Perfect Game Field, weather permitting.

The Kernels will open their 2016 season on Thursday, hosting the Quad Cities River Bandits.

 

Twins Moving to Cedar Rapids

For some time, now, I have been trying to find ways to spend my “retirement” years involved with professional baseball. I’ve finally found the answer and decided that April 1 was the perfect time to release the announcement.

I have come to an agreement to purchase the Minnesota Twins from the Pohlad family and yes, I will be moving the club to Cedar Rapids. (I mean, it was either that or I had to move to Minnesota and, no offense, but I’ve lived there already. Pass.)

New Twins owner - me.
New Twins owner – me.

I’ve always wanted to own a Major League team and, like pretty much every Twins fan (or at least all of them who have access to the internet), I have always believed I could run the team better than anyone who actually was responsible for doing so.

As part of the agreement, the Twins’ Class A affiliation will be in Minneapolis, giving Target Field a tenant for at least as long as the original agreement required when taxpayers paid for construction.

Twins President (for now), Dave St. Peter, was pleased with this development.

“I’ve often said in the past that it would be nice to be able to watch the Twins’ young minor league talent play in the Twin Cities,” St. Peter said. “This agreement brings that dream to reality.”

I have scheduled a meeting with Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett to discuss how we can best go about adding an additional 35,000 seats to Veterans Memorial Stadium. I see no insurmountable issues there, as long as the city is willing to cough up the money for the renovations.

As for staff decisions, all positions will be posted at corridorcareers.com. All current Twins employees from St. Peter to every usher and beer vendor, will be invited to apply for their current positions (or any other job they might think they’d be good at). I learned in my experience in the professional world that is is the way progressive companies do things these days.

There is one exception to this policy. General Manager Terry Ryan will be retained.

I’ve made this decision for two reasons. First, I genuinely respect Mr. Ryan and, though I don’t always agree with his decisions, I believe he is very good at his job. Even if I didn’t feel that way about the GM, I’d keep him anyway, just because I know how much it’s going to piss off Twins bloggers/fans/commenters/know-it-alls all over Twins Territory.

There will be some pretty noticeable changes, however. For example, because of my fondness for the Iowa Hawkeyes, much of my wardrobe is black and gold. After paying for the Twins, I’m not going to also go out and buy a new wardrobe. The Twins’ colors will instead become black and gold.

Finally, while I will not be lifting the MLB.tv blackout policy from covering the entire state of Iowa, at least that blackout policy will finally make some sense.

I look forward to meeting all of the new Twins fans when the team opens the 2017 in Cedar Rapids. I hope those of you in the Twin Cities enjoy your final season of watching the Twins and I’m sure you will enjoy watching Midwest League games in the future.

-Steve

Ricky Nolasco? Really?

Entering the spring, there appeared to be eight pitchers contending for the five rotation spots on the Twins’ Opening Day roster. I thought that constituted more depth than at any time in the past several years.

Absent injuries (or, as we learned last season, lengthy suspensions for PED use), Ervin Santana, Kyle Gibson and Phil Hughes were going to be starting games in their Twins uniforms. Tyler Duffey, to me, had showed enough in 2015 that he shouldn’t be too concerned about his roster spot.

That left one rotation spot up for grabs between Tommy Milone (the lone lefty in the group), Trevor May, Jose Berrios and Nolasco.

With those four options, how did we end up with Ricky Nolasco opening the season as the Twins’ fifth starter?

Ricky Nolasco (Photo: SD Buhr)
Ricky Nolasco (Photo: SD Buhr)

May was told early in March that he’d be opening the season in the bullpen, ending his participation in the rotation sweepstakes.

Berrios was informed that he isn’t ready for prime time and will open his season at Triple-A Rochester.

Milone had a good spring, assuring that the Twins will have one southpaw in their rotation, but instead of claiming the final starting spot, he essentially claimed the fourth spot and bumped Duffey down into a one-on-one face-off with Nolasco for the final spot.

As Edward Thoma writes in a very good piece over at his Baseball Outsider blog, the situation with Duffey is troubling on several levels.

Let’s be clear about one thing – Duffey didn’t pitch particularly well this spring. That’s something he readily admitted himself when interviewed following his demotion to Rochester this week. Nolasco hasn’t been terrific, either, but he has had somewhat better stats than Duffey (though much of Nolasco’s work was against minor league hitters on the back fields of the Twins’ complex).

But, as Thoma reminds us in his post, Duffey wasn’t told, entering spring training, that he needed to have better statistics than the other contenders to earn a rotation spot. In fact, he was told to work on his change up, which he did. That work didn’t go particularly well as he and his developing change up got knocked around quite a bit.

If Duffey had been told he needed to put up better stats than Ricky Nolasco to go north with the Twins, last year’s experience would suggest to us that he’d have had little trouble besting Nolasco simply by using his existing repertoire of two fastballs and two breaking balls.

Tyler Duffey (Photo: SD Buhr)
Tyler Duffey (Photo: SD Buhr)

However, the change up is pitching coach Neil Allen’s baby. Since being hired to Molitor’s staff, the one thing written about Allen more than anything else is his devotion to the change up. Since Duffey used his change up all of about 2% of the time during his 2015 time with the Twins, it’s not surprising that Allen would be pushing him to improve that pitch.

But Duffey, without a change up, wasn’t a borderline fifth starter for the Twins at the end of 2015. He was arguably the most effective starting pitcher they had.

Would an effective change up be helpful to Duffey? Certainly. But even without one, he was pretty damn good last summer. Certainly better than almost anyone would reasonably expect Nolasco to be at this point.

Did Duffey’s focus on his change up this spring, in lieu of spending the time sharpening his existing pitches to prepare for the season, cost him a rotation spot that was his to lose entering spring camp? If so, did he really lose his spot or did a Neil Allen obsession with the pitch cost Duffey that spot and, by extension, cost the Twins games Nolasco eventually loses that Duffey, sans change up, would have won?

Allen’s predecessor as Twins pitching coach, Rick Anderson, became famous – or, more accurately, infamous – for implementing a system-wide “pitch to contact” philosophy that de-emphasized strike outs. That philosophy was adopted at every level of the Twins’ system and it was rare (to say the least) to see pitching prospects who did not embrace that philosophy rise to the big league level with the Twins.

We will never know how different the Twins’ fortunes might have been had they put more emphasis on missing bats throughout the organization during Anderson’s term with the Twins. What we do know is that, during the latter years of Anderson’s era, while he was enforcing his obsession, other teams were developing pitchers with better velocity and winning more games than Anderson’s staffs of comparative soft-tossers were.

I’m hoping we are not witnessing something similar with regard to Allen and his love for the change up, but if Duffey’s spring is any indication, it’s something we should keep an eye on.

Just as it was perfectly fine for Anderson to expound on the advantages of developing sufficient command and control to find spots where hitters are most likely to make weak contact, it’s also perfectly fine for Allen to preach the benefits of a good change up.

The problem comes when those sermons become absolute dogma that is forced upon every pitcher in the organization to the point where it is made clear they have no future in the organization without following it.

Heading into spring training, we are always told over and over again that we shouldn’t read too much into spring stats. Pitchers are often focusing on particular pitches, which hitters figure out pretty quickly during a spring game, so we shouldn’t get too excited about, or too down on, particular players based simply on stat lines.

That’s fine.

So, if we throw out the stats, explain to me again why Tyler Duffey and Jose Berrios are going to be wearing jerseys with Red Wings on the chest in April, while Ricky Nolasco is taking the mound for the Twins every fifth game.

I can’t think of any reasons for that, other than that Duffey was told he needed to spend his spring focused on developing a change up, which he arguably has demonstrated he did not need to effectively retire Major League hitters, and that the Twins can retain control over Berrios for an extra year if he spends a couple of months in Rochester to open the season.

OK, that’s not really true. I can think of about 25 million other reasons. But I hope that the Twins have reached the point where money isn’t the primary factor behind roster decisions.

The only thing that should matter to the Twins is, “who can get out big league hitters better?”

I’m sorry, but there is no way I can look at the group of May, Berrios, Duffey and Nolasco and be convinced that the best option for the Twins’ fifth rotation spot is Ricky Nolasco.

Whether the reason Nolasco is in this rotation is because the front office didn’t improve their bullpen enough to allow May to move into the rotation or because they want to keep Berrios’ big league service clock from starting until June or because Duffey was told to focus his spring on a pitch he doesn’t need or because the Twins don’t want to throw the $25 million they still owe Nolasco down the toilet, the result is that the Twins are likely to lose more games in 2016 than they would have with one of the other three pitchers opening in the rotation instead of Nolasco.

The Twins may have pulled themselves out of the ranks of the irrelevant in 2015, but they won’t be contenders again until the first and only factor determining the make-up of their roster is winning baseball games and the last I knew, games won or lost in April count exactly the same as those in June, July, August and September.

-Steve

Will Write for Beer

I just returned from a 10 day vacation in Fort Myers, Florida. In a way, my annual trip to hang out on the grounds of the Minnesota Twins spring training complex is a “working vacation.” I do, after all, spend a lot of time there watching this season’s prospective Cedar Rapids Kernels and having conversations with front office staff, coaches and former Kernels players, all of which, I believe, prepares me to do a better job of writing about the Kernels once the season starts in April.

1422057369395This year’s trip to Florida, however, started out on a bit of down note. While enjoying some lunch at a Sonny’s BBQ in Georgia on the drive down, I checked my email and discovered that the degree to which my Florida trek would be a true “working” vacation was perhaps significantly lower than originally thought. I received word that MetroSportsReport.com, for whom I have been covering the Kernels for the past three baseball seasons, was suspending operations and my services would no longer be required.

The news didn’t come as a complete shock to me, for a couple of reasons.

First, perhaps, is because it wasn’t the first time in the past year that I’ve been invited to cease working for someone. Last summer, my “day job” employer of some 38 years also decided they no longer needed me to show up for work. So, being told I no longer have a job is just becoming a regular thing for  me.

Second, and more importantly for the purposes of this discussion, it simply is no longer surprising when any sportswriter (or anyone involved in a journalism business) finds him/herself out of a gig. It may be because of staff cutbacks, financial belt-tightenings, or, as is the case of MetroSportsReport.com, an entity determining that it is just too hard to keep a journalism business afloat.

I’m grateful to Jim Ecker, the owner of MSR, for having given me the opportunity to help cover Kernels baseball the past three seasons. I not only got paid to go to ballparks and write about baseball, but I gained a significant appreciation for the work that regular beat writers do. If you think that it’s easy to find an interesting angle for game stories that will draw readers’ interest night after night, you only need to try doing it for a week or two to learn you are very mistaken. Covering a beat – any beat – can be difficult work and the people doing that work are facing some tough truths in their chosen profession these days.

One of those difficult truths is that sportswriting (and news reporting in general), as a business, is challenged to find a way to stay relevant and financially solvent at the same time. Newspapers are losing circulation as people rely more and more on the internet as their channel of choice for news and information of all types. If the employer experiences revenue challenges, it’s not good news for those working for that employer, no matter how well they do their jobs.

I confess that I’m part of the problem because I haven’t subscribed to a newspaper in this millennium.

It used to be that when I wanted to buy or sell something, the first thing I did was open the Cedar Rapids Gazette. I’d look for local sales. Maybe I would check the personal ads for a used snowblower or place an ad to sell a set of golf clubs I no longer needed. When was the last time any of us did that? Everything I want is now available with a couple of keystrokes.

Of course, I still like to read about local sports. Fortunately, the Gazette has an online site where I can find the latest game stories and columns about the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Cedar Rapids Kernels and the Hawkeyes and, pretty much every day, several more stories about the Hawkeyes.

And I don’t pay a nickel for any of it. On the Gazette site, I read the work of Jeff Johnson, Marc Morehouse, Mike Hlas and Scott Dochterman regularly and they don’t see a cent from me.

Sure, I have to answer a survey (or at least indicate I choose not to answer a survey) to read the story I want, but I don’t mind that.

I read the St. Paul Pioneer Press coverage of the Twins and Vikings regularly and I don’t pay anything for that. Sorry, Mike Berardino, you’re getting none of my money, either.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune started charging a few bucks for full access to their online site a few years ago. I’m sure they experienced resistance to that policy, but not from me. I pay the monthly charge because I value their coverage of the Twins and Vikings enough that it’s worth it, to me. I guess that means that Phil Miller, LaVelle E. Neal, Howard Sinker and Matt Vensel are taking a couple pennies out of my pocket, but I think I’m getting good value for those pennies.

I read recently that one of the original Twins bloggers, Aaron Gleeman, lost his writing job with NBCSports.com. I paid nothing to find that information out. I read that information free on Twitter. I paid exactly that same amount to read Aaron’s writing work with NBC and, I suspect, that’s a big reason why Gleeman is looking for a new gig now.

We all know the various ways that organizations, big and small, have been trying to monetize online content. The surveys I mentioned the Gazette using are common. MSR tried (ultimately unsuccessfully) to rely on local advertising sales of static ads for each section/page of the site. TwinsDaily.com, where many of us in the Twins fan community spend a good chunk of our time, has used video ads in addition to the static ads. They also publish sponsored content.

Some online advertising is flat out annoying. I don’t care how much I enjoy your content, if you have ads that blast commercials at me any time my mouse happens to roll over the wrong point on your site, I’m not going to spend much, if any, time at your site.

The annoying ads are coming back to bite the online publishers, however. They led to what should have been seen as the inevitable development of “ad blocker” programs. I don’t use such a program, but my understanding is that they not only block the annoying ads, but even the unobtrusive ads. That’s a problem for anyone trying to make a living from publishing news online.

Some of the “big boys” in the business (NY Times, Wall Street Journal, etc.) have fought back and will not allow users of ad blocking applications to access their sites. They can afford to do that. Most others are going to have to find another way to continue making some amount of money from their online content.

By now, if you’re still reading this, you are probably wondering why this is so interesting to me that I’m writing about it. The answer is pretty simple. Have I mentioned that I’ve lost two jobs now in the past few months?

I’m much more fortunate than most of my fellow suddenly unemployed writers. I’ve got a pension and retirement account sufficient to assure I’ll have a roof and food and I’ve reached the age where I can tap those accounts without tax penalties.

I’ll survive. But I’d like to do more than just survive. I’d like to continue generating a little income from any time I spend somewhere other than on the golf course (I’m sure as heck not going to make any money ON the golf course, with my game).

When you “retire,” as I have, you get one consistent piece of advice: “Now you can look for ways to earn some money doing the things you enjoy doing.” What’s often, but not always, left unspoken is the last phrase of that sentence, which would go something like, “… instead of spending 50-60 hours a week enduring the soul-poisoning BS you’ve been putting up with at your job all those years.”

There’s certainly some truth to that sentiment in my case. I haven’t missed my old day job for one second since the day I walked out of the office. Missed some of the people, but not the job itself for a single moment.

But I’m still dealing somewhat with the, “what do I do now?” thing.

I’ve got one particular project lined up that I’m really looking forward to. For now, anyway, that would fall into the “volunteer work” category more so than “gainful employment.” If it goes well, that could eventually change, however, and it will definitely be something I’ll enjoy doing.

But I really do enjoy writing and it would be nice to at least make enough money from it to support my developing craft beer consumption habit and, just maybe, a bit more than that, so that my retirement income sources stretch a bit longer. Is that too much to ask?

Ordinarily, it wouldn’t be. But my interest, in this case, happens to coincide with an environment in which people who are much more experienced and talented at the work are losing their jobs every day because the people who pay them can’t figure out how to get consumers to pay them enough to support the costs of providing content. And that sucks.

For now, I’m going to continue writing, even if my material only appears here at Knuckleballs and, possibly, also over at Twins Daily, at least occasionally.

We at Knuckleballs have never received a cent of revenue from the site. We don’t include advertising of any kind and we have rejected all offers of sponsored content. Our content has remained the very essence of free content. That may continue or it may not.

I believe that it is (or should be) reasonable for us, as consumers, to expect to pay something for the information, opinions and other content we want to enjoy. People who go to the effort to provide that content, even an old part-timer like me, should rightfully expect to receive some form of remuneration for the work put in if the content we provide is deemed worthy of being read.

Unfortunately, smarter people than I have failed, thus far, to come up with a reliable system that accomplishes that.

A small operation like Knuckleballs, in the hands of someone who has some financial flexibility, might be able to experiment a bit with new options.

Ironically, that would require a lot more research and work on my part, for which I would continue to be uncompensated.

It’s a vicious circle, I tell you. Maybe I need to go to my favorite neighborhood bar while I contemplate things. Anyone want to buy me a beer?

-Steve