Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Twins Thoughts, and more
NFL "EXPERT" Picks
Q&A with Mark Sheldon
Twins Beat Reporter for MLB.com
Good Morning everyone! Well, it is Tuesday, and so far throughout the offseason, Tuesdays have meant a Question and Answer segment with someone related in some way to the Twins. I have been so fortunate to be able to 'interview' a couple of Twins minor league players as well as a couple of the writers who follow a couple of the Twins minor league affiliates. (By the way, if there are any Twins players, or minor league players, or other people related to the Twins organization and you might be interested in answering some questions for Twins fans on this site, please feel free to e-mail me. Thanks!)
Today, I am thrilled to post a Question and Answer session with Mark Sheldon. Mr. Sheldon is the Twins Beat Reporter for mlb.com, the Official site of the Minnesota Twins. On the mlb.com site, he answered a number of fan's e-mails. And after doing that, he was kind enough to use some of his limited free time to answer a lot of questions for me. As I was coming up with questions for him, I wanted to make sure to ask some of the "tough" questions, and he answered them all very well. So, thank you Mark Sheldon! And I hope (and am sure) that everyone will enjoy this posting. If you have any comments for me or Mr. Sheldon, please e-mail me and I will try to answer your questions or forward them on to him.
Before we get to the Q&A, if you have missed any of the interviews on this site, here is a quick checklist:
10/18/05 - Q&A with Kevin Slowey
10/11/05 - Q&A with Wes Holtsclaw
10/5/05 - Q&A with Eli Tintor
7/28/05 - Q&A with Jim Mandelaro
2/28/05 - Q&A with Pat Neshek
1/27/05 - Q&A with Stick and Ball Guy
12/17/04 - Q&A with Alexander Smit
5/28/04 - Q&A with CJ Nitkowski
04/19/04 - Q&A with Jim Souhan
Let the Questions Begin!
SethSpeaks: How long have you been writing for mlb.com?
Mark Sheldon: I've been with MLB.com, and covering the Twins as a beat writer, since 2001 when all the team web sites were re-launched in the current format.
SethSpeaks: What is your background in baseball? Did you play ball growing up at all?
Mark Sheldon: I've always loved baseball since I can remember. My grandfather from Ohio played college baseball in the 1920s and 30s and he taught me a lot about the game and shared his memories. Like many kids, I played Little League up until seventh grade.
SethSpeaks: If so, what positions, and were you any good?
Mark Sheldon: I played outfield in the beginning and later moved to first base. I was decent defensively, especially at first, but I could never really hit. I tried out for baseball in school but was cut and competed instead at track and cross country running.
SethSpeaks: What is your background in journalism?
Mark Sheldon: I've had a bit of a unique background in the field. I majored in Political Science at the University of Cincinnati from 1990-94, but took journalism classes the final two years of school. My interest in TV news in particular led to an internship at the NBC affiliate in Cincinnati. I did well enough to land a job out of college on the assignment desk and worked my way around behind the scenes. I eventually landed at ESPN for a couple of years before realizing TV wasn't for me. I landed back in Cincinnati and worked for a web site there covering sports, namely the Bengals, before coming up here.
SethSpeaks: Growing up, who were some of your favorite players or teams?
Mark Sheldon: I grew up about 90 minutes northwest of New York City, so the Yankees were my favorite team. I loved Chris Chambliss, Graig Nettles, Ron Guidry, Willie Randolph, Goose Gossage and later -- Don Mattingly and Dave Winfield. My most favorite player as a kid though for some reason was Tom Seaver when he played for the Reds.
SethSpeaks: Who were your favorite writers, baseball or others, and did they influence you in any way?
Mark Sheldon: I like a wide variety of writers in all genres. Roger Kahn wrote a book called "October Men" about the 1978 Yankees, and it was fantastic. Among columnists, I've really enjoyed Steve Rushin from S.I. the past few years. In non-sports genre, my favorite authors lately have been James Ellroy, Elmore Leonard and Nick Hornby. I don't know if any writer has really influenced me. I've kind of done my own thing and tried my best to make my game stories and features easy for readers to understand without "talking down" to them.
SethSpeaks: How much of the Twins Official site are you responsible for? (meaning, do you post your articles, update the stats pages, roster, etc.?)
Mark Sheldon: In the first year, I did much of the writing, posted some photos and published a lot. But since then -- I'm strictly writing, which is what I want to do. The central MLB.com office makes sure the stats, roster, transactions, schedule, probable pitching info is up to date and accurate. I am responsible, along with many others at MLB.com, for making sure everything on the site is up to date and correct. We're not always perfect, but we do the best we can.
SethSpeaks: Does Major League Baseball or the Twins restrict what you write in any way?
Mark Sheldon: My articles go through an editing process that's probably similar to any other publication. I e-mail them in to the editor and producers and it goes from there. But (hopefully the readers can attest) I write what I see and I'm fair. If the Twins play poorly in a game, I write abut that. If they play well, I point that out too.
SethSpeaks: During the season, what is a typical day for you?
Mark Sheldon: A day at work can sometimes be pretty long. Every day I get up and read what the local papers have on the Twins. For a 7:10 p.m. game, I usually get to the ballpark around 2:30-2:45 p.m. and go to the press box. I might do more reading and catch up on the e-mail, expense reports, etc. The clubhouse opens around 3:30 and I'll head down to see what's going. It's the best time to talk to players and get interviews. Ron Gardenhire usually talks to all the writers at once inside the dugout around 4:45 p.m. during batting practice. The clubhouse is open again after BP and if there is anything to follow up on, I might go back and do more interviews. Then it's back up to the press box to write my notebook story. If I'm lucky, I have time to eat dinner. If not -- it's a hot dog and pretzel in the press box during the game. After the final out, I file a brief story about the game basics and head back to the clubhouse for post-game interviews. After I get back upstairs to the press box, I'll write a more detailed game story and possibly a sidebar. I also write a short preview for the next evening's game. If a game ends at 9:30 p.m., I hope to be out the door and headed to the car by no later than midnight. If there is a day game the next day, or if I have a morning flight, I don't get a lot of sleep.
SethSpeaks: Do you ever read any of the Twins blogs?? Are there other writers that you read on a daily basis?
Mark Sheldon: I do read some of the blogs but not too many. I read Aaron Gleeman's stuff a lot and enjoy Batgirl's site and yours as well. I read TwinsGeek sometimes before he closed it down and sometimes the DTFC Twins forum. One of the writers I read a lot online is Bill Simmons from espn.com -- he just cracks me up and he's the best at merging my two favorite topics -- sports and pop culture. I read a lot of newspapers online, but I wouldn't say I have appointment readership for any other writer. I like checking out the local columns from Patrick Reusse and Tom Powers, even if they're not Twins related.
SethSpeaks: What is your relationship with the other Twins beat writers from the local newspapers? Is there a competition for stories or quotes?
Mark Sheldon: I consider the other beat writers in town to be both professional colleagues and friends. But yes, we compete for stories and breaking news information. That's how the business works and it's cool that way.
SethSpeaks: How do you draw the line between friendship with players and coaches and a professional relationship? Can that be difficult at times?
Mark Sheldon: I am on good terms with many of the players in the Twins clubhouse and there are some I've known for a few years now. But there are times when tough questions have to be asked of the manager and players when things go awry. Most of them respect that we have a job to do and that we'll show up the next day to be accountable for what is written. It's not always easy. The friendships that are formed aren't really social ones though. But, I often put the notebook and recorder down and talk with guys about non-work related topics like the kids, movies, other sports, etc. I enjoy getting to know people on a personal level just because I like people. It makes the job even more interesting.
SethSpeaks: Being that you are with the team most days throughout the season, how would you describe the Twins coaches and Ron Gardenhire??
Mark Sheldon: Gardenhire makes a work day vastly more interesting for a reporter. For the most part, he gives thoughtful answers to your questions, he'll give you a little insight to his thinking about a situation, and he isn't afraid to say what he's thinking -- even though it can burn him occasionally (ie: the Hunter Wendelstadt incident). Gardenhire is a great storyteller as well and often has everyone laughing. He'll tell stories about his playing days with the Mets and some of the personalities of the people he knew in those days. He doesn't just do that with reporters -- I've seen him take the time to talk with fans and share stories with them too. He also listens to what they have to say. The coaching staff is also very knowledgeable about the game and it's fun listening to their stories. If I need to know something about a player beyond what Gardenhire might say, the coaches have all been helpful.
SethSpeaks: How about with the players? Who are a few of the really good guys to talk to?
Mark Sheldon: Fortunately, we're in a market where Twins players have been mostly decent in the years I've been here. This isn't like other clubhouses, where there might be a few too many big egos or prima donnas. Obviously, Torii Hunter is the most outgoing guy around. But there are many others that you can talk with both for work and just shooting the breeze. Joe Nathan, Shannon Stewart, Michael Cuddyer, Lew Ford, Mike Redmond and Terry Mulholland are just a few of them off the top of my head.
SethSpeaks: I assume that part of your job is developing a trust with the players. Can that be difficult?
Mark Sheldon: Sometimes. Many players, especially those from outside the organization, have become conditioned to distrust all media because they may have been felt they were burned or saw a teammate get burned. You just have to show up every day and build up your equity with them over time.
SethSpeaks: A lot more situations 'got out' this season than in the past? Were things worse, or was it just that more came out?
Mark Sheldon: I think some of the issues were simply a bi-product of a very disappointing season where high expectations weren't met. Although not always the case, winning clubhouses are often happy clubhouses. The Twins clubhouse, in particular, has undergone a sweeping transition the past couple of years. You have almost two distinct groups that came in together. There are guys like Hunter, Jones and Radke that were around when things were bleak in the 1990s and around for the renaissance. Then there's the next wave of younger guys like Morneau, Mauer, Bartlett, etc. who are tight because many of them came up through the system together. I also think the lack of outgoing veterans in the clubhouse (besides Hunter and Mike Redmond) didn't help.
SethSpeaks: What is your take on the Cy Young Award? Should it be awarded to the league's best pitcher, or should it go to the pitcher with the most wins? Obviously the deeper question here is, do you believe that Johan Santana should win the 2005 Cy Young Award?
Mark Sheldon: I believe Santana should win, but he won't. He will place second behind Colon. If voters saw Santana every fifth day, like most of the Minnesota writers did, the vote would be different. Yes, he had a lackluster first half but he was clearly the best pitcher in the second half when it really counted and dominated like few others. He has all the other requisite numbers, except wins. And as everyone knows, Santana wasn't exactly given much help by the lousy performance of the offense.
SethSpeaks: In your personal opinion, what should the role of statistics, specifically advanced metrics play in a game? Does the coaching staff use stats like WHIP, or Opponent Batting average, or OPS, or VORP, to make decisions??
Mark Sheldon: I'm personally not a stat-head kind of guy, but you certainly can't ignore them. There are numbers that help managers determine the best match-ups for specific situations or game plans. Still, sometimes there is a right guy for a right situation and the numbers take a back seat.
SethSpeaks: Specifically, would Ron Gardenhire look at things like, lefty-righty splits? It would appear that he doesn't as he continued to play Jacque Jones against lefties and Matthew LeCroy against righties?
Mark Sheldon: I know for a fact that he does often look at splits because he's mentioned that in his reasoning for why he might pinch-hit a guy in one situation or start another guy in a game. But there are obviously variations. Not everything a manager decides can always be by the numbers. Personalities often come into play too. With the exception of this year, Jones had shown improved numbers vs. lefties since earlier in his career. Some of that came from having his manager's confidence and knowing he would play every day.
SethSpeaks: We had a couple of fun e-mail exchanges late in the season regarding Shannon Stewart. I think we both can agree that he had a disappointing season, by his standards. I wrote one posting saying that he was the worst leadoff hitter in the American League. It seemed like he lost his "professional" hitting abilities. What do you attribute Stewart's struggles to, and do you think he'll come back with a solid season next year as it is a contract year for him?
Mark Sheldon: Yes, he definitely had a disappointing season. I'm not trying to make excuses for Stewart but he was incredibly banged up this year. He had those two serious wall collisions (one at LA in June and one in August at home vs. Chicago) and was dogged by several other nagging injuries. I think he should rebound next season if he's fully healthy. And like you said, it's a contract year.
SethSpeaks: Torii Hunter had one good month this season (for the first time in about two years) before he was hurt. Jacque Jones had a strong April and one other solid month surrounded by some really horrible months. The reason I mentioned this is because these guys, along with Stewart, were seemingly untouchable to Ron Gardenhire. Throughout the season, Gardy was constantly pointing out faults of Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Lew Ford, Jason Bartlett and even Joe Mauer, clearly the team's best player. These players, some of whom were disappointing, were no less productive than The Soul Patrol. I guess I'm curious if there is a reason, or a way to explain why Gardy was like this? Does he play favorites, or is he trying to become another Tom Kelly and be absolutely brutal to young players?
Mark Sheldon: Your observation isn't wrong but we also don't know what might have been said behind closed doors to the veteran guys. Clearly, Gardy was trying to send messages to the younger players when they screwed up and he wasn't afraid to share his thoughts publicly. I'm sure there's a comfort level with the older guys he's seen come up since his third base coaching days and managers often try not to embarrass their veterans in the media.
SethSpeaks: Do you think that the manager and coaches realize that Nick Punto is a utility player and not an every day player? Or, will he be given as much time as Luis Rivas was?
Mark Sheldon: Players like Punto are usually given every last chance possible by the organization because they hustle for every single play and that's what the Twins like. We still don't totally know what he can do on an every day basis, because he hasn't had an injury-free year in Minnesota. I don't think he's promised an every day spot next season, especially if the acquire a second baseman over the winter.
SethSpeaks: To a pretty positive topic, I was thrilled that the Twins called up Chris Heintz for September. What a great (And well-earned) gesture by the team! Can you tell us anything about his first appearance in the Twins clubhouse and how excited he must have been?
Mark Sheldon: I can tell you it was pretty much surprise for him despite his solid year at Rochester. He went home to Florida to be with his wife for the birth of his first child and wasn't expecting a call-up at since he wasn't on the 40-man roster. When he was a late substitution in a game at Cleveland to catch Liriano, he was nervous but excited that he was officially in a game. He also kept himself in check because he didn't want to let any pitches get to the backstop.
SethSpeaks: How about the call ups of guys like Scott Baker, Luis Rodriguez, Francisco Liriano and Travis Bowyer? Were they wide-eyed and nervous?
Mark Sheldon: If Baker was nervous, he didn't show it. He's a reserved guy but speaks very well and seems to put a lot of thought into his answers. He also knew during his first two call-ups that his stay was temporary, so that might have helped him in some way. Rodriguez and Liriano don't speak much English so it was hard to get a real sense of what they felt. Liriano later admitted being nervous after his first big league inning (the game where he gave up the mammoth homer to first batter Gary Matthews Jr.). Like any first-time call-up Bowyer was just happy to be there and didn't have expectations more than getting mop-up duty. He ended up getting more than that and debuted in a bases loaded situation. I wouldn't generally say any call-up is "wide-eyed" when they come up here. Most of these guys were in the big league clubhouse at spring training.
SethSpeaks: Speaking of excitement over a guy getting called up, how exciting was Francisco Liriano? Do the players get excited about a guy like that?
Mark Sheldon: The players could certainly appreciate his stuff but I don't think there was this sense from there that the "second coming" was in their midst. You have to remember he came up and got into the rotation when the ship was already well on its way to sinking. It was more a chance for him to get his feet wet. His slider was deadly and his fastball, when located well, was pretty tough too. I think players will be more excited about him when he has a few more wins under his belt in more meaningful situations. Liriano is an introverted guy but everyone in the room appeared to like him.
SethSpeaks: How important is the return of Jason Kubel to the 2006 Twins?
Mark Sheldon: Especially after watching some of the younger hitters struggle this season, I'm wary of placing any significant expectations on a rookie -- especially one who missed an entire year with a major knee injury. Kubel may fulfill the promise that seemed imminent during the 2004 season but you just don't know. If we're on the backend of this off-season and partially hinging the Twins' hopes of returning to the playoffs on Kubel's health and production, they're in trouble.
SethSpeaks: In general, do you think that Terry Ryan will make any big offseason moves, or do you think that he will basically just tweak the roster, knowing that his pitching staff should keep the team in most games and hoping that the young hitters will take a next step?
Mark Sheldon: I think Ryan will try to make big off-season moves but that doesn't guarantee that anything major will happen. The free agent market will be weak and the Twins don't often part with their coveted prospects in trades. Still, they could land some medium-level free agent or trade acquisition that could benefit them. It's not like they need a complete rebuilding job.
SethSpeaks: What is the best part of your job? To be fair, I'll ask, what is the worst?
Mark Sheldon: There are many bests. Obviously, I love baseball or I wouldn't be able to do this kind of job or put myself through the grind it can often be. I've never been a 9-5 kind of guy and I like that every day is different and that I get to work around and talk with people every day and learn something new. I enjoy writing very much and telling stories and this job has allowed me to merge two of my bigger passions together into one career. I also like traveling and seeing different cities and ballparks. But the downside to traveling and working many nights and weekends, is I don't get to see my family. I have a wife and a 13-month-old son who I miss when I'm away -- even if I'm just at the Metrodome and especially when I'm gone for 6-7 weeks for Spring Training.
SethSpeaks: Finally, what is your plan for the offseason? Do you get an offseason?
Mark Sheldon:It seems like the off-season shrinks more and more each year. I'm pretty much responsible for any Twins story that comes down the pike. I could go all day without having much to do and just when my family and I might decide to go out for dinner -- I'll get a phone call that someone was traded/signed/released/etc. and have to write something. I also go on trips like Winter Caravan and cover the winter meetings and TwinsFest. Other taking a week for the holidays, I haven't nailed down my time off yet. Hopefully, I'll work that out soon.
Mark Sheldon: Thanks Seth for inviting me to answer questions on your site!
Mark, thank you again, so much, for taking the time to answer all of these questions so honestly. I know that I check your site daily, and nightly, to see what new comments you've put online, and I appreciate all of the work and time you put into your job.
Do you have any thoughts or questions for Mark Sheldon or me? If so, please feel free to e-mail me.
TWINS THOUGHTS, and more
I have to start out with a couple of plugs for Stick and Ball Guy. He has had some great articles of late. Today, he has posted a very fun and interesting "Interview with Roger". Yes, that's right, our Roger! SBG has asked him questions regarding following the Milwaukee Braves and Hank Aaron, and the Twins minor leagues and so much more. You won't want to miss it!
Secondly, I have heard so much conversation about AJ Pierzynski being a better player than Joe Mauer! Why? Because he 'led his team to the playoffs'? Does that make Willie Harris a better player than Joe Mauer? ? SBG wrote a great article on the Doug Mientkiewicz comments in a Patrick Reusse article making that claim. I 100%, completely agree with Stick and Ball Guy on this one. Mauer is already twice the player that Pierzynski is, not matter how you look at it! Oh, unless you also consider Chris Widger better than Joe Mauer, you know, since he catches for the White Sox too!
That one actually upset me. I mean, how would the Twins possibly have been better without making that trade. You can read this, and much more on SBG's site, but first, Mauer was twice as productive as AJ. He is also about 10-12 times cheaper than AJ, and younger. They got a two-time All-Star closer who is one of the top three closers in the league. They got Francisco Liriano, who is one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball, is just 22 (tomorrow) and already has pitched successfully at the big league level. They also got Boof Bonser, who at some point next season could make an impression with the Twins after leading the International League in strikeouts in 2005. Like I said, SBG adds much more to his argument, but that continues to be the big one for me!
Another reader asked me if that Pierzynski trade might have been one of the best in franchise history. It has to be close for so many reasons. I would say that right now, it comes in second, but in time could be the best trade. I still go back to the Chuck Knoblauch trade for at least the best trade in the last decade. First, the Twins traded Knobluach, who wasn't the same player once he went to New York. Second, the Twins got six years and 57 wins from Eric Milton who they later traded for Carlos Silva (23-16), Nick Punto and Bobby Korecky. They then got six years out of Cristian Guzman, even if only about one full season from his was productive. He left last offseason via free agency and the Twins got a draft pick for him that they used to take high school shortstop Drew Thompson. The team also got 2+ years of service from Brian Buchanan who was traded for Jason Bartlett who should take over full shortstop duties in 2006. An they also got 5 1/3 innings from reliever Danny Mota. So, to summarize, the Twins got Eric Milton (6 years), Cristian Guzman (6 years), Brian Buchanan (2 years), Danny Mota (4 games), Carlos Silva (2 years, so far), Nick Punto (2 years, so far), Jason Bartlett (<1 year, so far), Bobby Korecky (0, so far, but led AA in Saves in 2004 before having arm surgery this year), and Drew Thompson (0, so far, and it could be four or five years before he would show up with the Twins).
The Braves received compensation from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for pitching coach Leo Mazzone in the form of a very interesting pitching prospect. The Braves will receive Felix Hernandez's....... older brother, Moises. The 21 year old pitcher pitched in just 11 games for Class A Aberdeen this season, going 0-4 with a 3.08 ERA.
Finally, check out the Baseball America chat with Denard Span.
Is it just me, or do you think that Doug Mientkiewicz would like to get out of playing for the New York Mets next season?!?! These quotes should ensure that!
Rumor has is (aka Charley Walters) that Kirby Puckett is about to remarry.
Any thoughts on either of these topics, e-mail me. Thanks!
NFL "EXPERT" PICKS
After a great week by our panelists in Week 6, Week 7 was a pretty average week. However, Ben Jacobs found himself as the Week's top picker, going 11-3 as he works his way back toward the top after a slow start. Mike Brasel and Kevin Slowey came in a game behind at 10-4. Trevor Born maintains his two game lead over Cory Hepola for the overall lead as both went 9-5, as did six others. For more on our panel or our picks, check out the NFL "Expert" Picks page here.
Final Standings Total Week 7 Over All Name Site
L Win% W L Win % Trevor Born Twins Junkie 9 5 64.3% 71 31 69.6% Cory Hepola KTVH-TV Sports 9 5 64.3% 69 33 67.6% Mike Brasel Fantasy FB Guru 10 4 71.4% 68 34 66.7% SethSpeaks Panel 8 5 61.5% 65 34 65.7% Seth Stohs SethSpeaks.net 9 5 64.3% 67 35 65.7% Aaron Gleeman Aaron's BB Blog 9 5 64.3% 66 36 64.7% Brent Hanson BrentNet 7 7 50.0% 61 41 59.8% Stick & Ball Guy Stick & Ball Guy 9 5 64.3% 61 41 59.8% Melissa Lien SethSpeaks.net 7 7 50.0% 60 42 58.8% Will Young Will's Twins Blog 9 5 64.3% 59 43 57.8% Ben Jacobs Hardball Times 11 3 78.6% 59 43 57.8% Kevin Slowey Twins Pitching Prospect 10 4 71.4% 57 45 55.9% Grant Balfour Twins Relief Pitcher 5 9 35.7% 52 50 51.0%
And on that note, I will call it a day. I certainly hope that you have found the Q&A with Mark Sheldon interesting and worth reading. Remember, I will be back tomorrow with a new Guest writer answering the Why Baseball query. If you're interested in participating, please let me know. If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail me.
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