March 2010

Writing about snakes on a train

Writing from the bullet train to Kaohsiung, which is actually very nice. It’s not your typical New York subway experience, that’s for sure. Everything is very clean and they reserved a couple cars of the train for our traveling party, which is about 100 people when you include all the players, coaches, staff, media and MLB International crew. The meal they served left a tad to be desired – a rather strange combination of egg and turkey sandwich and a banana, but hardly a complaint on this end. The group of Latin players on this trip are playing some Dominican music at the back end of our car while everyone else either naps or reads. Josh Suchon is in the rail car in front of us attempting to call into DodgerTalk so that those of you back home can hear the bi-continental show. Indeed, technology never ceases to amaze.

Anyway, after yesterday’s game was eventually rained out (we waited about four hours total to try and get the game in, to no avail), most people came back to the hotel to try and see a few other things around Taipei. Joe Torre had invited a group of us to dinner at 8 p.m., so we figured we might be able to get a little bit of sightseeing in during the two free hours.

Scott Akasaki and I decided to check out a Buddhist temple called Longshan Temple and it was a pretty cool experience. Apparently the temple is dedicated to Guanyin, the Buddhist representation of compassion, and while we thought it would be touristy, it was entirely locals who were there for prayer. Each would bring various offerings (food, drinks, etc.) to the shrines around the temple and they each held about five sticks of incense, which they would toss into an urn. We could have stayed much longer but frankly, with people actually praying it didn’t seem right to hang out.

But, as it turned out, the temple was right next to “Snake Alley,” which many of us had planned to visit but few actually got to. Of course, we had no clue where we were going and had just the words “Snake Alley” in Chinese written on a piece of paper. But everyone was nice enough to point us in the right direction and eventually we got to an area that had a slight resemblance to downtown Las Vegas – a flashing neon roof over a marketplace with shops and restaurants.

Mixed among the various stores selling goods or food were about five shops that looked almost like pet shops, with enormous snakes in glass cages. One of them had to be 30 feet long and as think as Michael Restovich’s arms (if you haven’t seen him, he’s a big boy). As we walked by one store, the owner grabbed a microphone and started talking to the crowd in Chinese…and suddenly he grabbed a snake by the neck. Warning, this next description is rather graphic.

From there, the guy took the snake and with all of his might, wacked it head against the ground twice, leaving a sound in my memory that will last a long time. I suppose this basically kills the snake or at least knocks out its memory of what is about to happen. He then wrapped a little noose around the snake’s head and hung it from the ceiling. While its body continued to writhe in an attempt to get out, he busted out a knife, sliced straight along it’s belly, and proceeded to drain the blood out of it into a shot glass. All the while, the snake was squirming and at one point, latched on to the snake hanging next to it until the shopkeeper broke them apart.

He repeated the same thing with the second snake with tons of people looking on in shock, including what appeared to be many locals. Then, he nonchalantly wandered over with the two shots of blood (mixed with alcohol) and put it down on a table in front of two people having dinner. Suffice to say, it was one of the more wild things I’ve seen in my life and Scott and I both left there somewhat stunned.

The whole thing was eerily similar to the opening scene of “The Beach,” with Leonardo Dicaprio, where he lands in Thailand and ends up in a private room, doing a shot of snake blood. Meanwhile, his voice comes on in the background with a really interesting monologue.

“Trust me, it’s paradise. This is where the hungry come to feed. For mine is a generation that circles the globe in search of something we haven’t tried before. So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay your welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, you know what? It’s probably worth it. You hope and you dream, but you never believe that something is going to happen for you. not like it does in the movies. And when it actually does, you expect it to feel different, more visceral, more real. I was waiting for it to hit me.”

It’s one of my favorite travel quotes and there’s no doubt that while this trip certainly hasn’t been without hiccups and sacrifice, it has been well worth it. The players and staff who have come on this adventure will remember it for the rest of their lives and hopefully the goodwill that we’re spreading will last for generations to come, like those who made this trips before us in the 1950s, 60s and 70s that resulted in guys like Nomo, Ishii, Kuo and Hu eventually becoming Dodgers.

Team has arrived at Kaohsiung County Stadium…here’s the lineup for the series finale:

Robinson, RF

Carroll, SS

Manny, DH

Loney, 1B

Belliard, 3B

Paul, CF

May, C

Restovich, LF

Hu, 2B

Towers, P 

Faster than a speeding bullet train

It’s early Sunday morning and after yesterday’s rainout, the team is up and at ‘em with a trip across the country to the city of Kaohsiung. We’ll take a bus to the train station, a bullet train to the Southern part of Taiwan, then another bus to the ballpark for the series finale.

Josh Towers, who was supposed to start yesterday’s game, will start in place of Hong-Chih Kuo, who said he felt a little soreness in his elbow yesterday after throwin a bullpen session on Friday. He doesn’t seem very concerned, but of course he and Joe Torre want to play it safe and that’s a huge bummer for him and his fans, as he was going to pitch in front of his family and friends here (he is leaving about 100 tickets), in many cases for the first time as a Dodger. But, he’d rather be safe than sorry and that makes all the sense in the world.

We were also very sorry we couldn’t get yesterday’s game in, but the rains were just too strong and made the field unplayable. Thousands of fans sat in the pouring rain for a few hours waiting to see if we could make it work. The weather should hopefully be much better on the other side of the island.

Otherwise, it’s been a great trip so far…we’ve seen a ton in a short amount of time and the passion here for baseball is palpable. Hope to add more on that front when we get to the next ballpark.

Getting underway in Taiwan…

It’s just about midnight in Los Angeles, 1 a.m. in Phoenix and 4 p.m. here in Taipei and after a rain delay of a couple hours, it looks like we’re going to start the game shortly.

If you’re awake and tracking the game on MLB.com, here’s some light reading from the Huffington Post, where Joe Favorito details the international brand growth of the Dodgers. It’s a well-written piece that explains why these games are so important to the team and the league.

The lineup here in Taiwan will be:

Robinson, RF

Carroll, SS

Manny, DH

Loney, 1B

Belliard, 3B

Paul, CF

Restovich, LF

Hu, 2B

Closser, C

Towers, P

Packing a week into a day!

To say that the last day and a half have been a whirlwind would be a rather large understatement. From the second we landed in Taiwan until now (the fourth inning of Game 1), we’ve been going almost non-stop but it’s been an amazing first 24 hours. Warning – this post will be a tad longer than usual.

The team’s arrival at the airport was met with throngs of media and fans and we took a bus ride through rush hour traffic, arriving at our team hotel around 7 p.m. There had to be several hundred fans waiting on the streets by the hotel and as everyone entered the hotel, there were people cheering as we walked up the stairs to our check-in area.

A news conference at the hotel shortly thereafter was packed beyond belief – a common theme when it comes to media here. And then a welcome party that was quite nice followed by a recurring theme from our trip to Beijing — Kim Ng, Jon SooHoo and myself went to some late night noodles, joined by KABC’s Josh Suchon. That foursome hit up a local watering hole (called Brass Monkey for all you Beastie Boys fans) to see the nightlife and then it was off to bed for the first time in about 24 hours.

With an early 8 a.m.  MLB logistics meeting, we plotted a day that had about 50 moving parts to it, yet it all came together incredibly well.

First, Chin-lung Hu took part in a news conference announcing the Dodgers’ new deal with MSI, a Taiwanese computer company that recently signed a partnership with us. At the same time, a quartet of Dodger players – Xavier Paul, Trayvon Robinson, John Lindsey and Brian Barton – joined Jaime Jarrin for a visit to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial, which actually seemed kind of like a Taiwanese version of the Lincoln Memorial. Very beautiful surroundings, too, and a group of young school kids realized who the players were and mobbed them, with Xavier saying he felt like a Jonas Brother.

From there, we headed off to Taipei 101, the second-tallest building in the world with the world’s fastest elevator. It was insanely high and just shooting up 89 floors in about 30 seconds made our ears pop. Joining the group at that point was James Loney, Prentice Redman and Kenley Jansen and while we were there, we found out that Manny Ramirez was having lunch at a restaurant just 14 floors below.

So, the whole group went down to say hello, snap some photos, and then Manny was off for an appearance that he was making in town to promote the Taipei International Flora Expo at the end of this year. Apparently, this is a huge deal here in Taiwan, as signs all around the ballpark promote that upcoming event. Manny was there with the Taipei mayor and they planted a tree in a ground-breaking ceremony or sorts. Manny spoke to the crowd and in addition to thanking the Taiwanese people for being so respectful, he also thanked them for serving as a place where many Dominicans come to play baseball. Again, there must have been 40 news cameras there. 

Finally, it was time to head to the ballpark to meet up with Kuo and Hu, who were hosting a clinic for kids along with Tim Wallach, Jim Slaton, John Shoemaker and Lorenzo Bundy. While that was going on, Ken Gurnick of dodgers.com and I headed to lunch across the street at the food court of the mall. Now usually when you walk into the food court, you’re used to seeing restaurants like Cinnabon, Sbarro, Carl’s Jr. and usually one Chinese food place. Well, we saw about 20 Chinese food places that all looked the same and settled on Thai food. Certainly a unique experience, as this entire trip has been so far.

Once we were back inside the ballpark, there was the usual game day stuff. Batting practice, a team photo, on-field introductions, anthems and all that good stuff. And Eric Stults pitched three scoreless innings, striking out four while walking just one – his former minor league teammate, Chin-Feng Chen.

There’s a zillion other thoughts that go through all of our heads as we experience a new culture like this one but there’s only so many things you can write, so we’ll keep it coming over the next couple days.

Again, be sure to check Twitter @dodgertownusa, as we’re updating that all day long with fun one-liners and of course, check out the coverage from Ken on the front of the site and all the other media members tailing along for the ride. And once we get back to the States, keep an eye out at dodgers.com/dmn for lots of awesome video features, as we’ve had crews tailing the players around everywhere they go.

Taiwan bound

We’re just about an hour away from boarding the bus to the airport, with a 10 am scheduled departure for Taipei. This job comes with some unique perks and safe to say, traveling around the world is one of them. While some may not be looking forward to a 15-hour flight to Taiwan for what amounts to three days on the ground, I’m personally excited about checking out another country that I’ve heard so much about for the past 10 years.

As PR representatives, we’re constantly promoting the players and the team and so we’ve probably written the word “Taiwan” 1,000 times in relation to Chin-Feng Chen, Hong-Chih Kuo, Chin-lung Hu, Chin-Hui Tsao or the Dodgers’ overall international efforts over the years.

Just last year, we signed a partnership with the Taiwan Tourism Bureau and had a news conference at Dodger Stadium talking about how beautiful the island is and encouraging people to go there, yet we had no clue at the time that we’d be going there six months later.

Speaking of Chen, he’ll actually play against us in the series and it’ll be nice to see him. He was always a nice guy and over there, I’d imagine he’s a legend in the game of baseball. Yesterday, with the Rockies in town, I reminded Jim Tracy of Chen’s first day in the Majors when we were in Denver…there was just one Taiwanese reporter in town who was lucky enough to get an exclusive on the first-ever Taiwanese Major Leaguer and yet, with Trace speaking in all of his baseball lingo, had the kid completely confused. It was hilarious.

Anyway, here are some of the documents we put together for the trip for those interested.

Game Notes Fri and Sat.doc 
Dodgers History in Taiwan.doc  
Taiwan roster.xls 

I hope to post here at the blog at least daily and will be tweeting @dodgertownusa as much as possible, so follow us there if you aren’t already.

In addition, we’re bringing a number of media members with us so keep an eye out for some fun and unique coverage from Ken Gurnick at dodgers.com, Ramona Shelburne at espnlosangeles.com, our friends at PRIME TICKET, FOX News, and of course, photo galleries from Jon SooHoo on the site.

Talk to you all from Taiwan in about 20 hours… 

 

A sad day for the Dodgers

Willie Davis was truly one of the most talented players ever to wear a Dodger uniform and for those who got to know him, he will undoubtedly be missed.

 

Inside the Dodgers blog addition…

As you’ve seen over the last four years, we’ve had various people contribute to this blog, including myself, Ned Colletti, team historian Mark Langill and Team Travel Manager Scott Akasaki. Well, we’ve got another one who is going to be dropping by to share some thoughts throughout the season and it’s another Josh!

Josh Lukin of our marketing department is quite often taking part in the same things you guys do…visits to Spring Training, DodgerLIFE events, Bleacher Beach, etc. So, we’ve asked him to provide an inside look at some of these sorts of things that the diehard fans would want to hear about.

Here’s his first post from a visit this week to Camelback Ranch.

“Sandy Koufax just drove by me in a golf cart.”

There is no better way to describe the Spring Training experience than that. The proximity to heroes, past and present, is unparalleled in the modern day sports world. A world full of agents, security, scrutiny and press conferences create barriers between players and the people who praise them.

At Camelback Ranch, those barriers are whittled down to a few thin ropes, creating lines rather than walls. Fans are afforded the opportunity to watch the Dodgers take batting practice, field grounders, run down fly balls, review base running rules of thumb, and train for the season ahead, all from only a few feet away. The interaction creates a lighter atmosphere than what you would expect at any other sporting event and gives players the chance to see other sides of their fans too. In one short week, I watched as men, women and kids of all ages and ethnicities showed up to see their Dodgers and in turn, watched the boys in blue take kindly to these not-so-strangers. Matt Kemp wore one fan’s oversized Manny headpiece on to the field. Russell Martin signed for just about anyone he saw. Hong-Chih Kuo even said hello to me and my guests as walked out to one of the practice fields and he has no clue who I am.

However, the pinnacle of player interaction came during a two-day visit from one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history – Sandy Koufax. The three-time Cy Young Award winner, former MVP and by far the most accomplished Jewish athlete in American sports, made a stop in Glendale to teach our pitchers a thing or two. And as excited as all Dodger fans are at the prospect that some of our prospects may pick up a tip from the great Koufax, the biggest thrill came between innings of a “B” game one of the side fields as Sandy proceeded to walk along the fence to sign autographs for a few lucky onlookers. The buzz began to build as just about anyone on the sprawling campus caught wind of the impromptu signing. Fans gathered to try and take a piece of history home as they took mobile pics, videos and more in an attempt to remember the time they saw Mr. Koufax in person- its what Spring Training is all about.
70945002.jpg

 

NL West matchup

The rain seems to be staying away for the moment, so the Dodgers will face the Giants for the first of about 20 times over the next six months.

There was a “B” game this morning at Camelback Ranch against the Sox and while I don’t have all the details, I know that as of 10:50 AM, the Dodgers trailed the White Sox 3-0 in the bottom of the fifth, despite having seven hits. Brian Giles was 2-for-2 with a couple of singles and Restovich, DeJesus, Reyes, Ausmus and Lindsey also had base hits.

On the mound, Scott Elbert allowed 3 runs (2 earned) in 2 IP while striking out three, walking one and hitting a batter.

Josh Linblom allowed one hit over two very quick scoreless innings.

Ramon Troncoso was on the mound with 2 on and one out in the fifth.

Over in Scottsdale, first pitch is in a few minutes and here’s the lineup:

Furcal SS

Kemp CF

Ethier RF

Ramirez DH

Loney 1B

Blake 3B

DeWitt 2B

Johnson LF

Ellis C

Billingsley RHP

Talk about Curing Autism (and the rain)

It’s coming down lightly here in Arizona, so who knows what will become of the trip to Mesa today. Assuming we make the trip and play the game, the lineup will be:

Paul, LF

Carroll, SS

DeWitt, 2B

Johnson, CF

Giles, DH

Green, 3B

Ellis, C

Mitchell, 1B

Repko, RF

Kershaw, P

Meanwhile, last night Matt Kemp hosted his second annual poker event called Ante Up for Autism and it was a big success. It seems like every player in Arizona, from every team, was there, and a lot of money was raised for TACA (Talk About Curing Autism).

At my poker table were a couple huge Dodger fans, including one who is an ITD reader and we took great delight in knocking Bruce Bochy out of the tournament. In the end, I’m proud to say that I finished third at the final table, behind Chad Billingsley and a guy that had a huge stack of chips when they ended the tourney at 11 p.m. Chad’s final hand pushed him into the #2 spot which earned him a nice little trophy.

And for those Amazing Race fans out there, we even had to knock out the two professional poker players, Tiffany Michelle and Maria Ho, as well as Flight Time and Big Easy, who were all there to support the great cause.

All in all, a very successful night for charity and Matt should be extremely proud of what he accomplished in support of his brother, Carlton, and every autistic child out there.

Cactus League play underway…

The players have headed out to the fields for practice this morning, but the first Cactus League game is today here at Camelback Ranch against our co-tenants, the White Sox.

Meanwhile, this morning at 8 a.m. we had a logistics meeting for Taiwan and people are starting to get excited for the trip. Obviously the earthquake there created a few raised eyebrows, but MLB has confirmed that there is no structural damage to any of the areas we’re going and that our Wednesday morning departure is all set.

There will be lots of fun things going on while the team is there, including an autograph signing for fans, a clinic for kids, a Success Seminar they’ve asked Joe Torre to participate in, and a little bit of sightseeing. Taipei 101 used to be the tallest building in the world until a new skyscraper in Dubai recently topped it. I guess we’ll find out if any of our players are afraid of heights.

Anyway, first pitch is at 1:05 and you can listen on KABC 790 or KHJ 1330…Rick and Charley on the English side and Jaime, Pepe and Fernando in Spanish. Tomorrow’s “home” opener will also be at 1:05 p.m. and can be watched on PRIME TICKET.

UPDATE:

Today’s lineup

Furcal, SS

Kemp, CF

Ethier, RF

Manny, DH

Loney, 1B

Blake, 3B

DeWitt, 2B

Martin, C

Johnson, LF

Padilla, P

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