Phoenix Bats

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


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.

The Cubs clinch World Series berth with NLCS Game 6 win

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  The Chicago Cubs celebrate defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 in game six of the National League Championship Series to advance to the World Series against the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
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After 71 years, the Cubs are headed back to the Fall Classic.

The dominance with which Clayton Kershaw attacked the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS was nonexistent in Game 6 as the Dodgers’ ace loaded the bases to start the first inning and scattered five extra bases and five runs over five frames. By the time Dave Roberts pulled his starter in the sixth inning, Kershaw was sitting on a Game Score of 33, the lowest he’s mustered since the start of the 2015 season. Only one of his strikes came via curveball, and whether he was having difficulty locating his off-speed stuff or felt more confident with the fastball-slider combo, it was the fewest curves he’d seen land for strikes all year (per David Adler).

Where the Dodgers were able to give Kershaw the edge in Game 2, they found themselves powerless against opposing hurler Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks turned out 7 1/3 scoreless frames with two hits and six strikeouts, preserving the Cubs’ second shutout of the postseason and the first since they bested the Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS. After his 1-0 loss to the Dodgers early in the NLCS, seeing the MLB ERA leader turn out a gem was a relief for the Cubs, especially one as spectacular as an 88-pitch two-hitter.

With Hendricks effectively stymieing the Dodgers’ best attempts to get on base, the Cubs played to their strengths at the plate. Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist cleared the bases in the first inning for a two-run lead, followed by a Dexter Fowler RBI single in the second. Willson Contreras came through in the fourth inning for the Cubs, lifting an 87 m.p.h. slider to left field for his first home run of October, while Anthony Rizzo hit his second homer of the postseason on a 1-1 fastball in the fifth.

Neither bullpen allowed a single run from the sixth inning onward. Dodgers’ right-hander Kenley Jansen took the ball from Kershaw in the sixth, scattering four strikeouts over three innings and denying the Cubs so much as a single baserunner through the end of the game. Aroldis Chapman, meanwhile, issued just one walk in 1 1/3 scoreless frames, inducing a Yasiel Puig double play to clinch the Cubs’ 17th franchise pennant.

With the win, the Cubs will face off against the Indians in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday at 8 PM EDT. And, in case you needed a reminder:

Video: Willson Contreras blasts first postseason home run off of Kershaw

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  Willson Contreras #40 of the Chicago Cubs celebrates after hitting a solo home run in the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game six of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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So much for Clayton Kershaw posing a threat tonight. The Cubs got their knocks in early and often against the Dodgers’ ace during Game 6 of the NLCS, racking up three runs in the first three innings before rookie catcher Willson Contreras unleashed his first postseason home run in the bottom of the fourth inning.

According to’s Phil Rogers, Contreras became the 10th Cub to homer in the 2016 playoffs, following big hits by Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant, Travis Wood, and Javier Baez. Of the ten home run hitters, Contreras joins catchers David Ross and Miguel Montero as yet another backstop capable of driving the long ball (and, less importantly, as another player capable of a sweet, sweet bat flip).

Rizzo, whose last homer was a deep drive to right field off of Los Angeles right-hander Pedro Baez in Game 4 of the NLCS, piled on Kershaw’s five-run outing with another home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. Kershaw called it a night after five frames, and the Cubs currently lead the Dodgers 5-0 in the sixth inning.