So Jason Wood’s Got a Bobblehead….

Happy Jason Wood bobblehead day to all of you Albuquerque Isotopes fans.  The first 3,000 fans to today’s ‘Topes game will receive a Jason Wood bobblehead.  Woody starred for five years in New Mexico while playing in the Marlins organization, ranging from 2003-2006 and again in 2008.  So we figured it was only fitting that we checked in with some of Wood’s Pelicans players to get their thoughts on the giveaway.

“They got his nose,” said Pelicans first baseman Brett Nicholas chuckling.  “He’s got some pretty lips on here too.”

Woody’s bobblehead

“Woody, can I play right field?” Nicholas asked jokingly. The doll shook its head, with some prompting, no.Nicholas was, of course, speaking partially tongue in cheek.  He must have been confused though.  The doll was only a bobblehead, not a Magic 8 Ball.

“It’s pretty cool to have a bobblehead,” Pelicans reliever Ben Rowen said.  “It’s definitely on the bucket list.”

The honor makes Jason Wood the first of the current crop of Pelicans to have a bobblehead, not counting Splash Pelican.  The sheer fact of the doll’s existence did catch some people off guard.  Odubel Herrera stared at the Woody replica for several seconds before realizing who it was…breaking out into a brief hysterical fit when he made the connection.

“Woodrow’s got a bobblehead?,” said Jared Hoying.  “Wow!”

The players did compliment the doll itself too, noting how it looked pretty much like Woody.

Woody’s grip

“I like when the head’s rocking back and forth,” clubhouse manager Stan Hunter said.  “It looks like him the other night when he got tossed from the game [Wood was ejected against Lynchburg on Thursday].”

Wood’s grip of the ball did catch a few players off guard though.  An infielder, Woody has a unique position on his bobblehead.  Instead of hitting or standing still — you know the same old same old — Wood is playing defense, balanced on one foot as he prepares to throw to first.  Honestly, this is the first bobble I’ve seen that has that pose, making it pretty cool and different.

“He’s the only middle infielder that throws changeups across the infield,” pitching coach Brad Holman joked.

“I think he needs to find a four seem grip,” Josh Richmond said.  “He needs to find the seems a little better.”

And thus ends the roast of Jason Wood.  Congratulations to the Pelicans manager on his success as a player and his time with the ‘Topes.  Also, if you’re on the west coast, it’s not too late to head out to the park and grab a Woody bobblehead of your own.  In all seriousness, Woody seemed genuinely happy about the bobblehead.  He stared at it a good minute when he first took the thing out of the box.  It is after all, pretty cool to see yourself forever immortalized in clay.

Relive History: The Tepesch/Reyes No-Hitter

With Myrtle Beach off on Monday there may be a little Pelicans withdrawl — or you might just want to relive the Pelicans first nine-inning no-hitter in team history.  In case you haven’t heard it, find below postgame audio from Nick Tepesh and Jimmy Reyes along with pitching coach Brad Holman.  You can also listen to the whole ninth inning again, and read quotes from catcher Tomas Telis and third baseman Christian Villanueva:

BRAD HOLMAN

NICK TEPESCH

JIMMY REYES

NINTH INNING

CHRISTIAN VILLANUEVA

…on the nerves of making sure no balls get through the infield

“We did our best.  We saved all those hits and tried to make all those plays and we did it.”

…on Roman Hernandez’s hard hit ball to his left in the fifth inning

“I was ready for everything.  I didn’t want to let any ball past so I did my best.  You feel excited.  You want everything [to come your way].”

TOMAS TELIS (through Wilmer Font)

…on catching a no-hitter

“I feel good.  It was my first no-hitter.  It feels like the finals.  I was very nervous in the last inning because of the situation and the pressure.”

Bus Ride Comfort…Just $3

So the Pelicans have arrived in Wilmington.  No, not North Carolina.  They’re in the Wilmington in Delaware.  You know, just south of Philadelphia.

Myrtle Beach to Wilmington happens to be the longest bus trip in the Carolina League.  Well good thing the Pelicans only had to drive from Winston-Salem, cutting the trip down to a measly seven hours, or about the amount of time it takes to watch Titanic (complete with Rose not make enough room on the floating board for Jack) two and a half times.

Anyway, the team rolled into its hotel just before 7am this morning, well past bedtime.  Sure, most of the team hit the hay as soon as they got to their rooms, but everybody caught at least a little shuteye during the trip — each with his own method to the madness.  There’s always the conventional “sleep sitting up” routine.  If that’s not your style you can always use my technique, called the “curl up into a ball and lay across your two seats.”

But what if chair sleeping isn’t something you’re up for?  Well, do I have the solution for you.  It’s common practice on a baseball bus that players will lay down in the aisles in order to both A) sleep laying down and B) stretch out.  This, however, can tend to be a little uncomfortable anyway (the ground is hard and sometimes hot) and dirty (it is the floor).

A few Pelicans had solutions to the aforementioned floor problems last night.  Outfielder Josh Richmond stopped by the Family Dollar next to the Winston-Salem hotel and picked up a mattress pad.  Not a bed at the Ritz, but it’s certainly better than the floor’s linoleum.  Christian Villanueva went one step further and purchased a blanked, an idea only bested by strength coach Ryan McNeal’s use of a brand name Snuggie.

Side Note: Brett Nicholas had a queen size air mattress with him too.  It was delivered to him with the rest of his stuff from his old teammates in Hickory, which is an hour or so from Winston-Salem.  The idea of inflating the mattress and putting it on top of the bus seats was discussed, but discarded.

Now as ingenious at mattress pads and blankets may seem, that’s just too conventional for a handful of Pelicans.  There was a trio that took traveling in comfort to a whole new level.  Of course, by the way, they would be members of @CrawdadsBullpen.

Reyes’ bed stored away after the ride

Pelicans relievers Ben Henry, Joe Van Meter and Jimmy Reyes spent the night on the ground…on pool floaties.  Yes…you know the things that you lay out on to tan or relax while at the pool.  They used those.

“Mine actually popped,” Henry said.  “I don’t know if it popped actually, but it just deflated.  I still slept like a champ though.”

The idea actually dates back to last season in Low-A.  While anticipating the long ride home from Lakewood (NJ) and Delmarva (MD), the pitchers and Luke Jackson (who’s still in Hickory) went to Dicks and sought out camping gear.  Understandably, it wasn’t the cheapest stuff in the world — $40 for some comfort.  But the $3 floatie on the next stand over….now that’s a bargain.

“For $3 if it provides any kind of comfort…” Henry said, comparing the ‘bed’ to an air mattress.

The move also opens up the chairs for one person to use four seats.  With one guy on the ground and asleep on his floatie, the guy who sits across from him can lay out across the aisle for added comfort.

“Like a bunk bed,” Reyes said.

As to what happens if the guy on top falls…

“It’s a Pelicans sandwich,” Reyes replied.

 

“Barack Wasn’t Near So I Couldn’t Say Hi”

I don’t know why, but for some reason there’s one memory that sticks in my head from my time working with the Buffalo Bisons. Well, there are a lot of memories, but this one is among them…

New York Mets pitcher Dillon Gee, then a prospect, looked at me as he got on the bus for a roadtrip.  “Where’s Lehigh Valley?” Gee said.  I grew up in Allentown, PA, so to me that seemed like a silly question.  “Seriously, where is it?” Gee followed.  “I’m from Texas.”

That brings us to Pelicans first baseman Brett Nicholas, well traveled, but new to the east coast.  Nicholas is from Phoenix, AZ.  He went to college at Gonzaga and Missouri and played last season mostly in Spokane.  So bottom line, he’s really never explored this part of the county.

So that’s why Nicholas ventured out during the recent 10-game Pelicans roadtrip.  See, the trip began in Woodbridge, VA, about a half hour outside of Washington, DC.  Wanting to explore, Nicholas and pitcher Ben Rowen took their Saturday morning and headed to the nation’s capitol.

Nicholas stopping by the White House

“I’m from Arizona,” Nicholas said.  The biggest thing we’ve got is a giant hole in the ground (Grand Canyon).  So it’s nice to go see a bunch of history.  You vote every four years, but you don’t really see where it gets to go.  It’s something cool where you get to say ‘this is where the people that are working for me go, or working for the people of Arizona.'”Of course, though, there is a lot to see in DC…and it was kind of amusing listening to Nicholas try to sort it out and prioritize.”Isn’t there a museum there?” Nicholas said to me at batting practice.

“The Smithsonian?” I replied.

“Yeah, that one,” Nicholas said.  “The one from Night at the Museum.”

“The Smithsonian is 19 museums,” I finished with.

Nicholas and Rowen ended up heading to the Museum of Natural History, where both players took pictures with various things they recognized from the Ben Stiller movie, including the giant T-Rex skeleton.  That, however, was only a small part of their voyage.

“We got to see the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the White House,” Nicholas said.  “The incredible part was the Vietnam Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and the World War II.  Even getting to go to Arlington [was incredible].  It just puts everything in perspective.  You can’t take it for granted what those people have done, giving their lives so that we can enjoy a great game like baseball.”

Nicholas’ HS football teammate was killed in Iraq

What made the trip more special, however, was a personal connection for Nicholas.  Back home in Arizona Nicholas played football with a classmate named John Daggett.  The duo played next to each other as linebackers on defense.  Their paths split after high school, however.  While Nicholas eventually became a professional baseball player, Daggett joined the armed forces and was killed in action as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

“It was something special because that’s somebody that I know,” Nicholas said.  “We think everybody’s a lot older in Arlington but really, he was 22 when it happened.  But it was just something special getting the goose bumps to go see.  I’ll never forget that moment.”It was a poignant moment, but one of many on that Saturday morning.  Both Nicholas and Rowen were taken aback by all of the memorials they saw, and the sheer size and scope of the people those monuments represent.

” We saw Arlington has something like 400,000 burials there,” Nicholas said.  “We were at the WWII Memorial and there are gold stars and each star represents 1,000 soldiers.  There were just over 4,000 stars.  So that’s over 400,000 soldiers that gave their lives just in WWII.  Plus in the Vietnam War the names are so small and that wall just goes on forever.  I owe them my life really.”

But there were also some light moments too, like when they stopped by the White House and became a little disappointed in what they did, or didn’t see.

“You’re like half a mile away and you’re looking through trees,” Nicholas lamented.  “Barack wasn’t anywhere near so I couldn’t say hi.  I wanna get closer one day, maybe a World Series title.”

I think the Rangers would be okay with that too.

Understanding the Dominance of Cody Buckel

We’re six starts into his first year at A-Advanced and he’s still only 19, two years removed from portraying Zac Efron’s character in Royal High School’s production of Disney’s High School Musical.  His stuff is nearly unhittable, and it almost feels as if all that’s left for Cody Buckel at this level is to actually throw a no-hitter.

The Pelicans righty is 3-1 with a 1.31 ERA, second best among active Carolina League pitchers.  He has a league best 41 strikeouts, the fifth ranking total in the minors as of his last appearance.  And yet, Buckel gets a little lost in the ocean of prospect hype.

At just 19, Cody Buckel has proven to be one of the best pitchers in the CL this season.

Buckel’s left off the Top 50 lists by all four Baseball America experts in their yearly Prospect Handbook.  He’s lost behind the likes of fellow teens Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, justly so, because both have made their big league debuts.  But he also falls behind organization mate Jurickson Profar, who skipped Myrtle Beach this year for Double-A Frisco.  He slides behind 18-year old Dylan Bundy, who some assert could make his MLB debut this season for the Orioles at just 18.  He doesn’t generate discussion like the Royals Bubba Starling, the Twins Miguel Sano, the Cardinals Carlos Martinez or the Pirates Jameson Taillon.  Granted, all were first rounders or coveted international signees, but none have dazzled like the Pelicans 19 year old.With Harper making his Nationals debut last week, I asked Myrtle Beach pitching coach Brad Holman how Buckel would do in the bigs tomorrow…you know, just for fun.  He said he’d probably do alright.  Then he added, “He thinks he can.”

“Moving up the ladder,” Buckel said, “obviously the game’s going to speed up a little bit and the talent’s going to be a lot better and the knowledge of the game is going to be a lot better.  But it’s still baseball.  It’s still the same game I’ve been playing since I was three.  It’s still on the same field with the same bases.  Nothing really changes.  I look at it as just another start.  It doesn’t matter who I’m facing, who’s in the batter’s box.  I’m going to attack with what I have and how I know how to pitch ever since I picked up a ball on the mound when I was eight.”

Just for fun I asked if Buckel thinks he could get big leaguers out.

“Oh yeah I got Moustakas out a couple times and I got Torrealba twice,” Buckel said with a boyish laugh.  Confident but not cocky.  “I can get big leaguers out.”

We’ve already given you Buckel’s stats, but numbers can be deceiving.  So let’s dig deeper.  In six starts he’s allowed only four extra-base hits and two came in one start.  He’s allowed more than one run in only one start — three allowed at Potomac — and those all came in an inning spurred by two infield singles, one that hit the base umpire to help the Nationals hitter reach.  And forget hits.  Look at the outs.  Thirty-nine percent of his outs come on strikes.  Only 10% of his outs come on flys to the outfield.  Everything else is on the ground.  His success caused one media member to tweet that Buckel even saved an orphaned kitten while pitching against Frederick Thursday.  Go pray to Jobu hitters, because that might be your only chance.

“Just making quality pitch sequences,” Buckel said.  “A lot of hard work in the offseason’s paying off right now.  Doing drills to keep my arm healthy and my body in shape and right now I’m showing that on the field.”

Now it’s not like everything’s cake for Buckel.  He does have things he works on and would like to see improve.  He is, after all, still at Advanced-A.

“The changeup wasn’t there early in the game yesterday,” Buckel said.  “I was trying to slow it down too much with unnecessary things and not letting the grip do its work and letting it be explosive, like it is my fastball.”

Buckel’s also working on using his legs better.  He wants to use his legs to push power into his core, not throw from his core.  He’s also constantly improving his grasp of Effective Velocity — the theory created by former hitting coach Perry Husband, and devoutly studied by Diamondbacks prospect Trevor Bauer, Buckel’s longtime friend.

Perry Husband has written about Effective Velocity

“It’s basically a mind game,” Buckel said.  “It’s deceiving the mind of hitters, disrupting their timing with certain pitch sequences and locations of pitches.  Going all the way up to the Major League level it’s just reaction of the hitters and being able to see that.  Right now I’ve got a pretty good feel of what sequences I need to throw and what I’m seeing out of the hitters and what the catchers are telling me.”The theory is nothing new.  In fact it’s been around a while, dismissed Buckel says, because it was too scientific and difficult to grasp.

“Trevor’s a tricky mind and he can grasp anything he puts his mind to,” Buckel said.  “It’s definitely difficult to grasp at first.”

Getting a grasp on Perry Husband’s theory has taken time for Buckel as well.  He used it last year at Low-A Hickory, but has really driven into the core of the process during the offseason and in 2012.  In fact, he’s having so much success, he’s almost matching Bauer, who leads the minors with five more K’s than Buckel.  The two traded texts about it this week.

“No one ever succeeds their master,” Buckel said Bauer joked to him.

Maybe not.  But in this case, a pretty close second isn’t half bad.