Category: Dailies

Sweden Winner and Loser in Baseball World Cup

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On the field, the Baseball World Cup Group C qualifier could have gone a lot better for Sweden. But the tournament was a great victory for Swedish baseball.

The Swedes lost all three of their games. The closest was the opening 10-8 loss to the Netherlands Antilles.

The 5-1 defeat to South Korea’s was a lot closer than expected considering they are Olympic champions, and ranked number two in the world, compared to Sweden at number 26. But a glance at the roster showed that around half the Korean players were university students. This was obviously not the same team that did so well at the World Baseball Classic.

So it probably wasn’t really a surprise that Antilles beat Korea 9-5. (Although someone mentioned that the best players from the Netherlands Antilles are actually playing for the Dutch national team, so perhaps this was the Dutch team B we saw here.)

The Canadian team (with former Rockies/Cardinals slugger Larry Walker as hitting coach!!!) was made up completely of minor league players, ranging from AAA to the Rookie League. While Sweden probably matched them defensively, the lack of Swedish pitching depth was apparent. There were seven Swedish pitchers in a game called under the mercy rule after the 5th inning, with Canada ahead 19-1.

One of the most emotional moments of the game was when opening game starter Joakim Claesson came in in the fourth inning in the final game, in an attempt to put out the fire and stave off the mercy rule loss. The entire crowd went wild, fully aware that Jocke had pitched well in the first game, and couldn’t have a whole lot left in his arm on one day’s rest. He had pulled it off two weeks previously for Stockholm in the Swedish baseball finals, Jocke winning the first game on the Saturday and coming in as the closer in the final game the next day.

Alas, despite the emotional outpouring things didn’t quite work out the same. Jocke game up a grand slam before closing the door, and Per Sjörs came in to pitch the fifth inning, giving up four hits and one earned run.

So Sweden could have done better on the field. But in terms of organization Sweden was a big winner in the Group C qualifier.

The Nya Örvallen stadium was amazingly transformed, with stands for 3000 instead of perhaps 50 before the upgrade. Where the right field bleachers were during the tournament, there used to be a bench on a small hill overlooking the field.

Most of the new bleachers are temporary, apparently only a handful behind homeplate will remain. But it was amazing seeing the old stadium with so much seating!

And all the concessions were also amazing. The little Sundbyberg Heat kiosk and tiny single toilet were closed, replaced by several restaurants and lots of porta-potties. There were sales of t-shirts, caps, baseball gloves, and even balls signed by all the players on the various national teams. There was even a place with a radar gun so kids could practice pitching and see how fast they were throwing.

It really reminded me of attending a game by the old Sonoma County Crushers, a Santa Rosa team that played in the sadly gone independent AAA Western Baseball League. Same concessions, but a much more powerful feeling, as all of baseball Sweden came together for a three day celebration.

The tournament also gots lots of publicity in the Swedish media. The national dailies “Dagens Nyheter” and “Svenska Dagbladet” not only reported the scores, as they do with Swedish Elite Division games, they ran large articles almost every day. The photo news agency Scanpix sent photographers every day. Even Swedish Radio’s Radiosporten reported the final scores after the end of the tournament. (First time I’ve ever heard them report on anything baseball other than the final game of the World Series.)

So congratulations to the Swedish Baseball and Softball Federation and the tournament organisers.

(And a tip for next year…change the selection process for the national team. The coach actually has to go watch the various teams play before picking his team. There were only four players on the 24 man roster from Sweden’s best team Stockholm. The three Stockholm position players all hit home runs, the only Swedes to do so, and the pitcher was Sweden’s best.)

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Swedish National Team to US

The Swedish National Team is off to the US May 16-28. Six Stockholm players are included.

While in the US the Swedish team will be taking part in extended Spring Training in Florida, taking on young minor league players from the Altanta Braves, Detroit Tigers, and Houston Astros. Afterwards they’ll be off to Wisconsin, to play teams in the Northwoods League, a summer league for college players.

The Stockholm players traveling to the US are last year’s Elite Division MVP Magnus Pilegård, last year’s best Swedish pitcher, Joachim Claesson, the brothers Björn and Peter Johannessen, Peter Diurlin, and teen pitching phenom Oscar Carlstedt, who threw a (seven inning, called for mercy rule) no-hittter last week in his pitching debut for this season.

Gameday Audio Fatally Flawed

This year’s Gameday Audio player from MLB.com is even worse than last year’s flawed attempt. How can you have a media player without controls for Fast Forward or even Pause?

Having delivered the same service as last year during Spring Training, MLB.com apparently chose Opening Day to replace the Windows Media Player/Silverlight alternatives with a new and seemingly untested Adobe Flash player. The first indication that something was wrong was when none of the Opening Day games were available afterwards for on-demand listening. Every single game was listed as coming “soon”.

Messages on the support forum apologized for the “inconvenience” that a product people had paid for was not there, and promised it would appear “after 3:00 PM ET”, a concept which could have meant they might be there sometime after the World Series. Or maybe next century. Fortunately the games showed up, but certainly several hours after 3:00 PM ET.

Worse yet, the Adobe player, apparently designed for video, is massively flawed.

For several years the Fast Forward control on the MLB players has often failed. You try to drag the slider and the player just freezes while it is “buffering”. This is a problem because invariably the game recordings start very very early. (For example, trying to listen to Wednesday’s Giants game today, I had to sit through more than 20 minutes of inane chatter by KNBR program hosts.) But at least last year, and during Spring Training, the Pause control worked.

The Adobe player has no controls at all, just invitations for TV features at extra cost.

Not only is this idiotic, but one wonders why MLB.com didn’t use Spring Training to test their new system? Better complaints then, followed by fixes, than having the whole thing flop on Opening Day!

The player of the last few years also offered the option to view the score by innings in a game, a helpful feature. That’s gone too, replaced by three alternatives that seem rather useless.

One “improvement” this year seems to be that anyone can subscribe to the USD 2.49 a month extra package to listen to games on mobile phones. Last year for reasons that are hard to understand, only subscribers to one single American carrier were offered this service.

Of course one could ask why mobile listening isn’t included in the overall Gameday Audio package? All platforms ought to be covered by a single subscription. Obviously MLB.com just wants to make more money. But eventually they are going to discover than anyone with a netbook and a Gameday Audio subscription can access the games while mobile anyway.

What is seemingly particularly dumb is that the extra mobile subscription, as well as its iPhone counterpart, apparently only provide access to live games. Here in Sweden, we’re asleep during most live games, and those that are played during our waking hours, happen in the late evening, when most people would be home anyway.

On-demand listening is a no-brainer for mobile baseball access. One really wonders who is making the decisions at MLB.com?

A Great Day for European Baseball

Saturday’s amazing upset by the Netherlands over the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic showed the world European baseball is not to be laughed at.

Even though they won by the narrowest of margins, 3-2, beating one of the very best nations in baseball was a remarkable achievement, especially considering that except for veteran pitcher Sidney Ponson, the Dutch team consisted of players from the American minor leagues (mostly A level) and the Dutch league. The team they defeated had major league players, some All-Stars and MVPs, at every position.

The Dutch may have scored all their runs in the first inning through a series of flukes and bloopers, but they held on to beat the mighty Dominicans. It was certainly no disgrace to be shut-out for three innings by Pedro Martinez.

Three years ago the Dutch upset Panama in the first World Baseball Classic. That was a surprise, but Panama is no where near the powerhouse that is the Dominican Republic. No matter what the Netherlands does in its game against Puerto Rico, its national team has established the quality of European baseball.

So Where is the MLB Network?

The MLB Network presumably launched on January 1. But no one seems to know about it where I am, in Ukiah, California.

I know about the network because I read about it in “USA Today”. None of the local newspapers here in Ukiah or Santa Rosa seem to have written about it. If you plug our zip code into the MLB network website, it says our local Comcast cable system has the network on channel 612. This is impossible, as 612 is a digital music channel.

So I tried to call Comcast.

There is no local number, just an 800 number, obviously somewhere else in the country. None of the voice mail options there are for information, they are only for upgrading or downgrading. The closest thing I could find was the option to report a technical problem.

But the guy who answered there was very helpful. He saw the 612 entry and realized it was bogus. But he couldn’t work out what channel the network would be on, except that it would have to be among the digital channels above 100. He did say I could access the cable box menu and choose the messages option to see if the local Comcast had said anything about the new channel.

Unfortunately when you key in the menu on the cable box here, there is no messages option.

I tried every channel from 100 up, and there was no MLB Network.

Dear MLB, if you want people to watch your new network, you’re gonna have to do better telling them how to find it!