March 02, 2015

Recently retired Marlins World Series winner Juan Pierre visits camp, talks retirement and more

JUPITER -- Juan Pierre called it a career last Friday.

Monday, he was back at work. Well, sort of.

The 37-year-old, 2003 World Series hero visited Marlins camp and was handing out hugs. Soon, if manager Mike Redmond can convince him, Pierre could be handing out advice.

Although it won't be in any official coaching capacity, Redmond and the Marlins are pushing for Pierre to spend some time around the team this season, hoping his trademark work ethic will rub off on some of the young pups like Dee Gordon. So will Pierre be sporting a Marlins advisor's uniform soon like Andre Dawson and Jeff Conine?

"I don't know. If they want me in uniform," Pierre said. "I'm not necessarily itching to get back in uniform. But just to hang out with the guys, come here and help out there individually. I don't like this attention right here. I like to slide in the cracks, be on the backfields. Field 6 is where I was made. That's what I look to do back there with the kids, work out individually if need be. Right now I'm just out here, hanging, supporting.

"Red was a great teammate of mine, supported me a lot, helped me a lot when I was here. Both times. We had a lot of great talks with the boys. This was my last team so a lot of these young pups I know. I'll try to help out anyway I can.

"My ideal job is to come to spring training between 7 and 9:30 a.m., do early work and then I go home. That's my ideal job. Give me all the early work you want. That's my ideal job."

Redmond would love to have Pierre around any way he can.

"After the season that he played for us [in 2013], we talked a long time about a lot of different things," Redmond said. "I know he was still trying to play and wanting to play and I just told him 'Hey man, when that day comes and you retire, give me a call, let me know and we'd love to have you around this organization.' I think back to all the days that I played I don't know that there's a better guy to represent our organization and what he meant as a player, as a person and a teammate.

"So to have him come up it means a lot to me and a lot of our guys too. To have him around as an another source of information is important I think to our younger players. Dee Gordon will really benefit from JP being able to talk to him. Sometimes just casual conversations can make a huge difference. It doesn't have to be a really specific thing, just maybe an experience thing. Look for this, look for that. It's nice the more guys we can bring out here with that type of experience will benefit all of us."

Pierre, one of the most beloved Marlins of all-time, has long had a reputation for being a hard worker. Redmond said there were mornings back when they were teammates he would show up at 5 a.m. for spring training workouts and Pierre was already in the batting cages bunting.

"It's funny for me to hear him say he only wants to show up from 8 to 10 or whatever," Redmond said. "It was impressive to watch him [during those early morning workouts]. I think that rubs off on players. You realize what it takes to be great and a guy like him is a role model and a leader no doubt. Younger players especially gravitate towards guys like that, that know how to work, how to act and are very successful."

Pierre, who sat out the 2014 season while looking for work, said he waited about a week into spring training before deciding it was time to retire. He was still hoping to get a phone call for a camp invite, but wasn't going to wait forever.

"I didn't want to be around all summer long hoping and wishing and that type thing," he said. "The decision was easy. It's hard because you know everybody knows the passion and love for the game I have. But it comes to a point where you know you can't play forever."

In the meantime, Pierre said, he's been enjoying his time at home with his family. He and his wife have two boys: Joshua, 3, and Jonathan, a five-month old.

"I'm Mr. Mom right now," Pierre said. "I enjoy it. I have to put my little one to sleep every night. He won't let my wife do it. I have to do it. So I enjoy little things like that. Maybe down the road I'll get back into it [coaching] in some capacity. I don't know yet. But definitely the love for the game is still there."

> Pierre said he sees a lot of similarities between he and the speedy Dee Gordon.

"He's way faster than I was that's for sure," Pierre said. "He's right on the cusp of being that great player. Similar to me, he was traded over here and here in this ballpark you need speed. He'll be able to run and maybe do some things he wasn't able to do with the Dodgers. It's definitely more laid back here. The Dodgers media, there's a lot of them out there. He's right on the cusp of being a really great player. He's in a perfect spot because they embrace [his] game here. They want him to run and score and make it a lot easier for the guys in the middle of the lineup. I definitely see a lot of similarities. He's probably got more pop than me too. How many career home runs does he got so far? He might get me here in a couple years then."

March 01, 2015

Creator of "Vulcan change up" saddened by death of Mr. Spock

JUPITER -- When former major league reliever Joe Nelson suddenly began receiving phone calls from sportswriters the other day, he knew what they would concern. Actor Leonard Nimoy had just died, and Nelson, in a baseball way, was a natural tie-in.

Nelson1It was Nelson who created -- and threw -- the "Vulcan change up" during his sporadic career in the majors, one in which he played for five different clubs, including the Marlins, in parts of six seasons spread out over 10 years.

Nimoy, of course, was best known for playing Mr. Spock in the Star Trek sci-fi series, the Vulcan first officer aboard the Starship Enterprise.

"When the calls started coming, I said it must be Spock," said Nelson, who now scouts for the Seattle Mariners and was hanging out Sunday taking notes on players at the Marlins' spring training complex. "I had the media relations guy with the Mariners call me saying, 'We've got these odd requests from writers. They want your phone number. I don't know why.' But I knew." Nelson2

Nelson developed his strange but batter-baffling pitch while playing in junior college after his coach suggested he come up with something different to include in his arsenal. Nelson discovered he could comfortably grip a baseball between his middle and third fingers, a split-finger with a twist.

But what to name his peculiar grip? He wanted it to be something clever.

"Nanu Nanu was nerdy and Spock was cool," Nelson said. "I didn't want to be Mork from Ork."

Nelson3Since the odd grip reminded him of Spock's hand-raised gesture, the Vulcan change up was born. Nelson, who didn't have much of a fastball, used it often during his big-league career, one in which he appeared in 157 games and went 7-2 with a 4.38 ERA for the Braves, Royals, Rays, Red Sox and Marlins.

Nelson said he watched Star Trek as a kid and even dressed up as Mr. Spock one Halloween.

"When I was 13, we didn’t have much money, so my mom Scotch-taped my ears back to make me look like him," he said.

Now that Nimoy is gone, Nelson figures his days of giving interviews to talk about the pitch are probably over.

"Spock's death will probably be the last interviews I give," Nelson said. "I was sad to see Leonard go."

Jose Fernandez throws off a mound for 1st time since surgery (VIDEO)

JUPITER -- Jose Fernandez threw off the mound on Sunday for the first time since May 9 of last season when he injured his arm and underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery. With his mother, grandmother and girlfriend looking on -- not to mention a contingent of Marlins front office types -- Fernandez threw easily off the mound for about 10 minutes.

The Marlins anticipate a June 15-July 16 return date to their rotation for Fernandez

We'll have more on his reaction about the experience later. For now, here's the video of the workout:

 

February 28, 2015

Giancarlo Stanton hit by Henderson Alvarez pitch, shrugs it off

JUPITER -- The Marlins didn't have to wait long to see how Giancarlo Stanton would react to an inside pitch. Stanton was plunked by a Henderson Alvarez during a simulation game on Saturday, with the ball clipping the slugger's left hip.

Stanton, whose season ended last September when he was struck in the face by a Mike Fiers pitch, wasn't injured this time. But he did gesture toward the Marlins pitcher and jokingly cursed in Spanish.

Alvarez's next pitch was came inside, after which Stanton walked out of the batter's box and headed to the dugout. Later, Stanton and Alvarez could be seen shaking hands in the dugout.

Stanton, for the first time, was wearing his new, custom-made helmet, which features a face guard that protects the left side of his face.

Alvarez admitted that he was a "little bit nervous" on Thursday when he pitched to Stanton during "live batting practice."

Stanton had four plate appearances during the sim game. In one of them, he drove the ball to the warning track in right center, where it was caught by Marcell Ozuna.

February 27, 2015

Juan Pierre, catalyst of '03 Marlins, officially retires

JUPITER -- Juan Pierre texted me this afternoon to say that he was officially retiring. Given that Pierre didn't play at all in 2014, the news should come as no shock to anyone. But Pierre was probably holding out hope -- as he did at the same time last year -- that he could hook on with some team in a reserve role, and that didn't happen.

The final numbers show that Pierre enjoyed an excellent 14-year major league career in which he amassed 2,217 hits (three more than Joe DiMaggio), 614 stolen bases (18th on the all-time list) and finished with an average of .295. He was an integral piece of the 2003 Marlins team that won the World Series and was voted the MVP of the Marlins for that season by the local chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. The trade in which the Marlins obtained Pierre just before the 2003 season ranks as one of the most significant ever made by the franchise.

PierreDuring an era in which steroids-infused power was the rage, Pierre was an old-school throwback, a slap hitter with a dirt-stained uniform who survived on singles and the stolen base. With his bat, he was an expert sharpshooter, aiming for openings on the field, not the outfield walls in the distance. Pierre totaled just 18 home runs during his career, or two fewer than Sammy Sosa hit in the month of June, 1998. Of his more than 2,000 hits, 83 percent were singles.

He always wanted to be on the field, bristled at the mere suggestion of taking a day off, and did not miss a game -- playing in all 162 each year -- during his three full seasons with the Marlins from 2003-05. In 2004, he was the only player in the majors -- and only the third since 1971 -- to play in every inning of every game for his team.

After the Marlins wrapped up the National League's wild-card playoff spot in 2003 with a win over the Mets and spent the evening celebrating with champagne and beer, manager Jack McKeon gave all of his regulars the game off the next day. All except two: Miguel Cabrera, who was then a young rookie and had no standing, and Pierre, who demanded to play.

But Pierre's influence, which was considerable, went far beyond the raw numbers and his performance on the field. His work ethic was second to none, as he spent countless hours before every game working every angle to make himself better. He earned every dime of his paycheck. When he showed up at the ballpark, he came to work. I never once saw him collapse in the soft seating of the clubhouse furniture to watch TV, or sit at a table to play cards -- traditional time-killers during downtimes of the seemingly endless baseball season.

If the Marlins were out of town, you would find him bouncing baseballs off the wall to get a feel for the carom. Or rolling balls along the first and third base lines before batting practice to look for any tell-tale tilt that might effect his bunting. Or taking fragile rookie Dontrelle Willis under his wing and, with a left-handed catcher's mitt he bought, playing catch with the young hurler before pre-game stretch. Pierre dirt

As a teammate, I can't recall another Marlin who was as revered as Pierre was inside the clubhouse. I never heard a negative word spoken about Pierre during his four seasons with the team, including his swan song season in 2013 when he spent most of the second half on the bench, gracefully accepting a reduced role without any hint of bitterness. He was the consummate pro and a role model.

Here's what former Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest had to say when I reached him to get his thoughts on Pierre:

"Probably him, more than anybody else, transformed that team," Beinfest said of the '03 Marlins.

On the Nov. 16, 2002, trade with the Colorado Rockies in which the Marlins obtained Pierre and Mike Hampton (who ended up going to Atlanta) in exchange for Charles Johnson, Preston Wilson, Pablo Ozuna and Vic Darensbourg: Pierre2

"A big part of it at the time was marrying him with Luis (Castillo) at the top of the lineup and having that speed component," Beinfest said. "That was a huge threat with those guys. They were disruptive. What we didn't know at the time was the type of guy we were getting, with the work ethic and attitude he brought to the ballpark. He fit like a perfect piece on that team.

Beinfest said it was probably "the most important" trade he made during his tenure with the Marlins.

"You talk about your favorite players and he automatically pops in your mind, because who doesn't like Juan Pierre?" Beinfest said. "Even that last year in '13, he was great. He had an opportunity to go elsewhere late that season and he wanted to stay. Part of that was family, and part of that was J.P. just being loyal, who he was."

What others are saying:

Curt Schilling @gehrig38

@JPBeastMode @MLB DESPISED facing you, couldn't make you swing and miss. Congrats on a wonderful career and on being a good man

Dee Gordon @FlashGJr

Congrats on your retirement @JPBeastMode glad I can wear your number with the #Fish I hope I can continue your legacy!

Ozzie Guillen FND @OzzieGuillen

@JPBeastMode congrats buddy was a honor to be u coach u manager, but even better iam u friend all my best to u and u family true pro

Dan Jennings @LtDanJennings

Sad to see a true pro like @JPBeastMode retiring, learned a lot about the game and especially about being a Christian from him

Christian Yelich @ChristianYelich

Congrats @JPBeastMode on one hell of a career! Thank you for teaching me how to work and how to be a pro. Forever grateful

 perry hill @PHill_bone

@JPBeastMode thanks for all the memories and thrills you gave all of us! Great teammate - tireless worker The game will miss you! #stopit

Troy Renck @TroyRenck

@JPBeastMode was hardest working player ever covered. They once locked him out of spring training so would take day off. Even better person

And finally from J.P. himself:

Juan Pierre @JPBeastMode

Wow I am blown away from all the tweets and the love I'm getting I can honestly say I left it all on the field no regrets #hustle#grit

 

 

Stanton, Ichiro to play in UM exhibition game

JUPITER -- Giancarlo Stanton and Ichiro Suzuki -- along with all the Marlins regulars -- will start and receive one at bat in Tuesday's exhibition game against the University of Miami. That figures to be a major thrill for whichever pitcher the Hurricanes send out to face the Marlins in the spring game at Roger Dean Stadium.

"The plan for the Miami game is we'll probably run our regular lineup out there for one at bat each," Redmond said.

In delivering the news, manager Mike Redmond said Stanton would DH while Suzuki would start in right field. Brad Hand will get the start for the Marlins in the second of two exhibitions against South Florida college teams. The Marlins face Florida International University on Monday, also at Roger Dean Stadium (1:05 p.m. starts for both contests).

Redmond said he wasn't yet sure who would pitch or play in the FIU game Monday, "but probably no regulars for that."

In addition to Hand, Redmond said other pitchers taking the mound in Tuesday's game against UM will be Vin Mazzaro, Justin Nicolino, Pat Misch, Kendry Flores, Brian Ellington, Ryan Chafee, Pat Urckfitz and Ryan Reid.

________________

Former Marlins catcher Charles Johnson will be spending time at camp this spring to impart his wisdom and provide advice to younger players.

"C.J.'s in the house," Redmond said. "I've talked to him over the last couple of years, trying to get him back up here in uniform, hanging out with the guys. It's good to have him back. Pretty cool. He and I came in that very first year with the Marlins, the first spring together, and played together in the minor leagues. One of the things I always talked about when I got this job, was incorporating guys that played with me or been a part of this organization for a long time. It's just another source for guys to get information from."

________________

The Marlins still have not announced the day when Jose Fernandez throws off the mound for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery. But Redmond said it should be "within the next few days. It's coming."

________________

 

February 26, 2015

Check Out Stanton's Strange New Helmet

JUPITER -- You've seen the body paint. Now check out Giancarlo Stanton's new-fangled helmet.

When the slugger steps into a batting cage later today to face live pitching for the first time since he was struck down by a Mike Fiers pitch in September, he'll be wearing this custom-made helmet and face guard to prevent a repeat occurrence:

Stanton_Guard_02

 

The Rawlings helmet was re-configured for Stanton with a face guard by Schutt Sports, which is better known for making football helmets that are used throughout the NFL and college.

Unlike some other helmet extensions, which are solid in nature, Stanton is going with a carbon steel frame that can withstand 100-mph pitches.

Stanton flew up to the company's Litchfield, Ill., facility Monday on owner Jeffrey Loria's private jet to see the helmet for the first time and put it on for size.

"We were so impressed with him when he came up earlier this week," said Glenn Beckmann, director of marketing and communications for Schutt. "He was genuinely interested in working this whole batter's guard out."

Stanton wanted something that would not only protect the side of his face, but a helmet that would allow him open sight lines and freedom of movement.

"He gave us the final instructions on what he wanted, and we had a working prototype to go this morning," Beckmann said Wednesday. "He was intensely engaged in every step of the development process."

The one-of-a-kind helmet and guard comes with an approximate price tag of about $500 to $1,000 -- small change for a slugger who will be making $325 million over the coming 13 years.

Beckmann said Stanton paid close attention to the details, and modeled the helmet to make sure it fit his needs. When the company fired fastballs at the guard sans the slugger to prove to Stanton that it did the job, the slugger's "face was pressed to the glass."

"He would stand there and mimic his batting stance and look to see if his site-line was obstructed at all," Beckmann said. "He held a baseball up to the gaps (in the guard) to make sure the ball would not come through."

For one final touch, Stanton had the company incorporate his initial -- "G" -- into the guard. (Look closely and you'll notice the initial for yourself.)

"We basically took Giancarlo's idea and we just translated it into wire," Beckmann said. "Then we just started creating different shapes and configurations. We got the look and then he decided he wanted to add a little style to it, and he put his G on the front of it, and we’re like 'That’s rocking.'"

Stanton_03

 

 

February 25, 2015

February 24, 2015

Redmond: "Expectations are good. That's what we want"

JUPITER -- It was a busy first day of full squad workouts here on the back fields at Roger Dean Stadium where the Marlins had the spotlight shining bright on them.

Giancarlo Stanton, the $325 million man, and Ichiro Suzuki, one of three professional hitters with 4,000 career hits, both held press conferences in front of dozens of reporters before the team met for an hour inside the clubhouse and hit the practice field. 

Excitement? Buzz? There's plenty of that -- and Japanese reporters -- around for the Marlins these days.

"Without a doubt it's a different feel, different atmosphere," manager Mike Redmond said shortly after emerging from that team meeting. "I think we all feel that. It's been a definite work in progress in two years. But we're heading in the right direction. There's a lot of excitement around this team.

"Expectations are good. That's what we want. We're here to win ballgames. As far as the players, the important thing is for these guys to continue to go out there and have fun, do their jobs. These guys are great players. But nobody should feel they've got to do more than they're capable of doing. There's no pressure for one guy to go out there and carry the load. We're much deeper. Those are some of the things we talked about. We got a lot of character on this team. We got guys that grind it out. We've got leaders. It's a fun group. These guys are fun to be around every day."

One particular guy Redmond doesn't want feeling pressured is Stanton, who said Tuesday he has no qualms about getting back in the batter's box after having his 2014 season ended by a fastball to his face. You can read my story on Stanton's comments from Tuesday here.

Redmond said he's not worried about Stanton feeling weird about being in the batter's box "at all."

"He's a competitor number one," Redmond said. "Will there maybe be a little bit of apprehension the first time he gets in there? Of course. That's human nature. I don't care if you're the toughest man on earth you're going to be a little bit nervous when you get in there. When he gets in there -- after a few times -- he'll be fine.

"Will there be teams that test him? Probably. But we'll cross that bridge when we get there."

Ichiro, signed to be the Marlins' fourth outfielder at age 41, said Tuesday through an interpreter he doesn't want to be thought of as the old guy in camp. He said he's here to help the Marlins win -- whether that's providing leadership or adding to his career hit total.

""A lot of guys here are 23, 25, young guys," he said. "I obviously don't know what my role is right now. I'll go through camp and find that out. Hopefully it wont look like I'm using a bat as a cane.

"[Getting 3,000 MLB hits] that is a pretty big goal and that is a goal of mine. But that is not the reason I play the game of baseball. Obviously I have other goals and motivations that have kept me here wanting to play. I don't think you can play the game if that's your only goal and I have other goals I want to accomplish."

So what drew Ichiro to the Marlins?

"What I wanted most was just the warm feelings the Marlins gave me," he said. "Everybody knows the people who came to Japan to the press conference and so it wouldn't be tough on me they had the physical done in Japan. They are accommodating for me in the fact that here at spring training they'll have a facility for me to have my [pilates] machines here and in Miami also the same thing to accommodate the things that are very important to me as a player. There was nothing that came my way I didn't like or would say no to. That's a big reason I'm here."

> Redmond reiterated Tuesday he plans to "mix and match" with the lineup during spring training a little bit. "Maybe hit Giancarlo fourth, try [Martin] Prado two, see where Yeli fits in the three-hole," he said. "But definitely our lineup is stronger and deeper and that's going to benefit everyone."