Phoenix Bats

The players gotta get their bats somewhere. Some get them from Michelle Ismaj.

36 Comments

This is Michelle Ismaj, the pro player rep for the Phoenix Bat Company. That fella next to her is Yoenis something. I didn’t write it down.

Michelle’s job: set up a table with her company’s wares outside of teams’ clubhouses, trying to get them to order Phoenix bats. Watching her work for a while and then talking to her, I have decided that her job is both fun and impossible.

The fun part: talking to ballplayers, trying to convince them that the wood from the Plain City, Ohio-based company is simply better than that noise from Louisville and other companies. There’s fun attitude to it all. Like sales reps in any business, Michelle hands out swag. The best: t-shirts with the company’s logo which say “Singles Suck” (which is also the company’s slogan, based on the web page) and “Walk me and save the embarrassment.”  The former of which ruffled the feathers of former MLB’er and current Team Israel hitting coach Mark Loretta, who told Michelle that he made his living hitting singles, so don’t knock ’em. Oh well, can’t please everyone.

The impossible part: trying to get players, coaches, clubhouse attendants and the other folks who make equipment decisions to go with a different company when there are so many other options and when baseball players are, by their very nature, creatures of habit. It’s an additional challenge when Louisville is an official MLB partner and gets to set up inside the clubhouses instead of outside.

But Michelle has a couple of advantages. For one, she’s been in this business for a while, previously repping for a different company, so she knows the competition. Second: her parents are from Mexico City and she grew up with Spanish as her first language, so she has an edge with players whose English isn’t strong. I tried to use my rusty college-level Spanish to hear what she and Cespedes were talking about but lost the thread within ten seconds. The key part, though: Cespedes ordered some Phoenix Bats, so I guess it all worked out.

Michelle gets to the park at 6:30 AM and she’ gone by 11:30, off to a minor league facility or to go pick up sample bats she let someone test drive for a previous day’s game. The next day she’s at a different park. When the major leaguers break camp she hits the extended spring season and the Arizona League and then the Arizona Fall League. We all take mini-vacations to the Cactus League. For her it’s a full time job.

I like talking to people like Michelle. There are so many people who make baseball run besides the conspicuous players, coaches and media. They’re all over Arizona and Florida right now, helping teams get ready. Selling stuff. Buying stuff. Playing some part in an increasingly big and complex industry, most of which we never see.

Jason Kipnis could join Team Israel for 2017 World Baseball Classic

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Jason Kipnis #22 of the Cleveland Indians throws during batting practice prior to Game Seven of the 2016 World Series against the Chicago Cubs at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Getty Images
5 Comments

With the 2017 World Baseball Classic around the corner, Team Israel has reportedly reached out to Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. Tournament rules stipulate that a player’s roster eligibility can be achieved in one of several ways: they were born in the country in question or hold citizenship/permanent legal residence there (or are simply capable of qualifying for citizenship), or one of their parents was born in the country or holds citizenship/permanent legal residence there.

For Kipnis, it’s the latter. Kipnis’ father, Mark Kipnis, is Jewish. That gives Kipnis the status he needs to suit up for Team Israel, despite the fact that he is a practicing Roman Catholic. He has yet to confirm or deny his participation in the competition.

Fifteen players have confirmed for Team Israel so far, including Mets’ infielder/outfielder Ty Kelly and free agents Sam Fuld, Nate Freiman, Jason Marquis and Jeremy Bleich. Per MLB.com’s Chad Thornburg, eight minor leaguers will also appear for the team. Like Kipnis, at least three other major leaguers are eligible for Team Israel’s roster but have yet to accept or decline involvement in the WBC: Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson, Mariners infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia and free agent left-hander Craig Breslow.

Rangers to sign James Loney to minor league deal

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 21: James Loney #28 of the New York Mets tosses to first base against the San Francisco Giants during the second inning at AT&T Park on August 21, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  The New York Mets defeated the San Francisco Giants 2-0. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
Getty Images
2 Comments

Free agent first baseman James Loney has reportedly signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman. The deal includes an invite to spring training and a $1 million salary if he makes the major league roster in 2017.

Loney picked up a one-year stint and starting role with the Mets in 2016, slashing .265/.307/.397 with nine home runs in 336 PA. While his numbers were down a hair from the .280/.322/.357 batting line he produced with the Rays in 2015, he provided the Mets with a necessary, if underwhelming upgrade over an injured Lucas Duda through most of the season.

The 32-year-old infielder is expected to have some competition at first base, with at least five other candidates in the mix: Jurickson Profar, Ronald Guzman, Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo and Josh Hamilton. Rumor has it that the team is planning on platooning Rua and Profar in 2017, barring any impressive breakouts or injuries during spring training, though Loney could still provide the club with some veteran depth and a decent left-handed bat off the bench.