Former big-league catcher Matt Walbeck was recently named Double-A manager of the year after guiding Altoona to the Eastern League championship, but last night the Pirates fired him.
Walbeck told Cory Giger of the Altoona Mirror that he was “surprised” by the move and received no clear explanation for the Pirates’ decision:
No, not really. Just that it wasn’t going to be a good fit. There were some things about how I have some aspirations and [am] highly driven and words like that, but apparently it wasn’t going to work out.
Walbeck has a .543 winning percentage, four manager of the year awards, and three championships in six seasons as a minor league manager and the 41-year-old has made it clear that he’d like to move up the organizational ladder, but said his conversation with the Pirates “never got there” because “they made up their mind.”
Meanwhile, the Pirates declined to comment on the move, and in fact general manager Neal Huntington and farm director Kyle Stark issued identical statements when responding to different reporters. The matching statements read: “We appreciate Matt’s efforts and wish him the best in his future endeavors but felt that it was best that we allow him to pursue other opportunities.”
Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette did some further digging and talked to “a source who declined to be identified” but had this to say:
The Pirates apparently had issues with Walbeck in terms of his communications with staff and players. That was the No. 1 influencing factor here. No specific examples were given, but it’s always been very important to this management team to have cohesion in the area of instruction and development, so that prospects can progress steadily through the system without having to adjust to new styles or terminology. The team feels it can do better in that regard, so it made the move.
Which happens first, Walbeck gets a major-league manager gig or the Pirates have a winning season?
When he’s not throwing baseballs, Twins pitcher Trevor May is an active gamer. He streams on Twitch, a very popular video game streaming site, fairly regularly and now he’s officially on an eSports team. Luminosity Gaming announced the organization added May last Friday. It appears he’ll be streaming and commentating on Overwatch, a multiplayer first-person shooter made by Blizzard Entertainment.
May is the only current athlete to be an active member of an eSports team. Former NBA player Rick Fox owns Echo Fox, an eSports team that sports players in games including League of Legends, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Street Fighter V, Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Mortal Kombat X. Jazz forward Gordon Hayward is also a known advocate of eSports.
The NBA in particular has been very active on the eSports front. Kings co-owners Andy Miller and Mark Mastrov launched NRG eSports in November 2015. Shortly thereafter, Grizzlies co-owner Stephen Kaplan invested in the Immortals eSports team. Almost a year later, the 76ers acquired controlling stakes in Team Dignitas and Team Apex. The same month, the Wizards’ and Warriors’ owners launched a group called Axiomatic, which purchased a controlling stake in Team Liquid, a long-time Starcraft: Brood War website which has since branched out into other games. And also in September 2016, Celtics forward Jonas Jerebko bought team Renegades, moving them to a group house in Detroit. In December 2016, the Bucks submitted a deal to Riot Games in order to purchase Cloud9’s Challenger league spot for $2.5 million. The Rockets that month hired someone specifically for eSports development, focusing on strategy and investment. Last month, the Heat acquired a controlling stake in team Misfits.
Once an afterthought, eSports has grown considerably in recent years and now it should be considered a competitor to traditional sports. League of Legends, in particular, is quite popular, reaching nearly 15 million concurrent viewers at its peak in the most recent League of Legends World Championship. That championship featured a prize purse of $6.7 million with $2 million of it being split among winner SK Telecom T1’s members.
The Orioles have re-signed outfielder Michael Bourn to a minor league contract with an invitation to major league camp, MASN’s Roch Kubatko reports.
Bourn, 34, joined the Orioles last year in a trade from the Diamondbacks on August 31. Though he compiled a meager .669 OPS with the Diamondbacks, Bourn hit a solid .283/.358/.435 in 55 plate appearances with the O’s through the end of the season.
Bourn, a non-roster invitee to camp, will try to play his way onto the Orioles’ 25-man roster. If he does make the roster, Bourn will receive a $2 million salary, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports points out.