Reliant dog show’s new tricks draw praise

As the 34th annual Reliant Park World Series of Dog Shows draws to a close today, show chairman Tom Pincus spoke with reporter Naheeda Sayeeduddin about the event that is growing in popularity.

Q: How have you seen the dog show grow and improve over the last 34 years?

A: If you look at other dog shows from around the country, you’ll see that they are seeing a decline in participation because of the economy. Our show is the only one that is seeing an increase in participation. We also began allowing public participation. Owners can bring their dogs to participate in events. The dogs do not have to be registered or have papers.

Q: How does the Reliant Park World Series of Dog Shows stand out from other shows around the country?

A: We allow public participation in the dog show. We have education programs for owners and trainers. For people who are interested in buying or adopting a dog we offer a “Meet the Breed” where they can learn about different breeds of dogs and their temperament.

Q: How many dogs are there inside Reliant Park on any one day of the event?

A: I don’t know how many dogs come through each day but we have 40,000 dogs that are registered for competition. That is not counting the dogs that are free to come through the door. Dogs don’t have to buy a ticket, so we don’t have a number on that.

Q: How difficult is it to have all those dogs under one roof?

A: It is not difficult at all. Each owner is responsible for their own dog. The dogs are usually good. They are very well-trained dogs.

Q: Why do people show dogs in shows?

A: Because they love dogs.

Q: What is the strangest thing you have seen a dog do in all of the years you’ve been with the dog show?

A: That is hard to say. I haven’t thought about that. There have been a few times when a dog got loose, and we had to run around the whole place to chase them down.

Q: Is it true that dogs look like their owners?

A: I have seen some owners dress like their dogs.

Q: Do you think cats are evil?

A: I have cats of my own. My cats and dogs get along real well. But you know as they say, I am my dog’s master and my cat’s servant.

Mike Lowell reminisces in return to Fenway

Mike Lowell saw a lot of what he misses most inside the Red Sox [team stats] clubhouse prior to last night’s series opener against the Seattle Mariners at Fenway Park [map].

Lowell exchanged hugs and handshakes with his former mates and watched a good portion of the batting practice. The clubhouse routines and ball field rituals reminded Lowell of what he cherished most over 13 major league seasons in two leagues.

“I just wanted to say hi to the guys, it was nice to see them,” said Lowell. “I think I miss coming to a challenge every day. It is kind of what I’ve known for the better part of the last 17 years. I miss my friends. You are in the same grind together.

“I’m still at peace with my decision, I think I made the right one.”

Hobbled by a right hip that never healed from surgery after the 2008 season, Lowell retired at the end of 2010. Lowell brought his family up from Miami to close up some business matters and catch a few games from an unfamiliar sight line.

“It was back in November and my kids asked me if we were ever going to come back to Boston,” said Lowell. “We kind of looked at the schedule and this was kind of put in there and it’s been nice. We had a nice dinner with (Dustin) Pedroia last night and he brought me up to speed. He still thinks he’s going to kill everyone (with) four more hits tonight.

“I didn’t know I was going to get Miami weather here in Boston.”

Red Sox manager Terry Francona was glad to have Lowell stop by.

“I saw him just for a second but you could have expected the guys were excited to see him,” said Francona. “He’ll be here for a few days and he looks good, he’s moving around better now than he was before.”

Lowell spent the first seven plus years of his career with the Florida Marlins, where he won a World Series in 2003. The Sox were in a transition process when they made a mega-trade with the Marlins on Nov. 24, 2005.

The Sox acquired Lowell and staff ace Josh Beckett [stats] in a seven-player deal with the Marlins for shortstop Hanley Ramirez and righty Anibal Sanchez.

Lowell was considered an extra in the deal that was really about Beckett for Ramirez. But Lowell became a reliable glove and bat in the Red Sox lineup. He helped facilitate the team’s transition between championship runs in 2004 and 2007, and he enjoyed his defining moment when he was named MVP of the 2007 World Series.

He has come to terms with retirement but he shied away from a self evaluation of his career.

“I don’t know if I’m there yet. I think I have to be away from it for a little bit more,” said Lowell. “I don’t really catch myself saying I did this or I didn’t do this.

“What I realize is that ’07 and ’03 and how special those years were to win a championship. When you are going through it, there is a lot of intensity and there is not a lot of time to reflect when you are going through it. Now I realize, man those were really special years. To have one with a team I played for a number of years and then have another chance for that in Boston. I think that was outstanding.

“It’s still very fresh in my mind and I’m very proud of what I did.”

Bernie Williams will again be attending All-Star festivities, but carrying a guitar instead of a bat

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Twenty-five hundred miles away from the stadium that made him famous, and 3,000 miles from the island that helped shape him into the man he is today, former Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams was at ease in the corner of a bookstore in an Arizona shopping center.

He was exactly where he was supposed to be. All the signs said so.

Magazines surrounded Williams — magazines from all over the world, and they were separated into racks and categories with big brown labels and shiny little letters. The “Current Events” mags were just above his head and to the right. The “General Interest” section was directly behind him and to his left, the “Arts” section was so close he could reach over and rip out a page or two.

In front of him sat a microphone and about 50 people, many in faded Yankees t-shirts with Williams and Martinez and Mantle written across the backs, and all clutching a copy of the book Williams co-authored with Dave Gluck and Bob Thompson, “The Rhythm of the Game: The Link between Musical and Athletic Performance.” Behind those fans, near the “Meet the Author” poster, stood about 25 more people trying to get a glimpse of a true Yankees star back in Arizona.

“I like Arizona. I really do,” Williams said. “The 2001 World Series was a memorable time for us, but maybe not the ending, because we lost. Game 7, two outs and Mariano on the mound? Are you serious? Really?”

Williams was kidding. Then he was serious.

“I’m just honored to [have] been able to play baseball during that difficult time in history. We played for our country that year,” he said. “September 11th affected all of us.”

Williams’ days of roaming the outfield at The House that Ruth Built are long gone, or at least mostly gone. He retired from the game in 2006 but he was back at Yankee Stadium a few weeks ago for the annual Old-Timer’s Game.

He’ll always be remembered as one of the most prolific hitters in postseason history but, this record player prefers vinyl — or a CD.

Weekends at Bernie’s are now made up of bookstore tour stops, concerts and guitar practice — plenty and plenty of practice. Williams plays jazz, classical, Brazilian and Latin, and when he’s not playing music, he’s listening to it or studying it. The Puerto Rican-born musician lives in New York but he’s in Arizona this weekend to share the story of his dedication to music and baseball, and how one helped the other in his new book.

Following the book tour stop Friday in North Scottsdale, Ariz., he’s scheduled to play a private concert in Phoenix on Saturday. On Sunday, he’ll play the National Anthem before the 2011 XM Futures Game at Chase Field as part of the All-Star Weekend festivities.

“I don’t think it’s going to be anything they’ve ever heard before,” he said.

Williams’ seven-stop book tour resumes next week in New Jersey and will take him to Connecticut, Long Island and New York before wrapping up the first week of August at J&R Music and Computer World in lower Manhattan. The author performs his music in private concerts and special events. He’s played on the same stage with Bruce Springsteen.

“I know I can pique curiosity,” Williams said. “People not knowing what to expect from me works in my favor. They will see a couple of things: I’m really passionate about music and I’m very serious about it. People see that I apply all the things I applied to be a successful player to my music.”

Williams, who has released three albums, admits his music is still evolving and he’s growing as a musician. His message, however, remains the same and it’s a big part of the book.

“Music and baseball seem different in so many ways but they have a lot things in common, because you build from confidence by trusting your preparation and being able to access all that experience so you can perform at your very best when it really counts,” he said. “I knew a lot of great batting practice hitters and a lot of musicians that are just awesome in practice, but when it comes down to showing what you can do and it’s all on the line, they come up short.”

“To me, the answer is not the physical,” he continued. ‘The answer is the mental aspect of the game and how you access that confidence or trust that preparation. There are lessons to be learned for everybody in that respect.”

Williams hopes to pass on those lessons to the young players he meets Sunday at the 2011 XM Futures Game. He doesn’t know their names but he knows the young men will be talented. He hopes they appreciate the weekend’s festivities and will carry the experience with them into their own future games — on and off the field.

Williams has been there. He was a five-time All-Star.

“To be looked on as one of the best prospects is an honor and it will help them look to the future,” he said. “They will not want to play another year without being involved in the All-Star scenario. This is a time to celebrate the game. The fans, and I think as a young player, it’s very important for them to experience that so it can cement the love for the game and love for being the best.”

Love for sport and music is important to Williams. It always has been. So is passion.

Not long after the strong connection is established, the preparation begins. Then the confidence develops and rhythm of the game takes over.

“You have to trust what you know and what you have done thousands and thousands of times and not freak,” he said. “For me, it’s how you get to that point. There are some people not able to access that confidence. We think our experiences can be beneficial to them.”

MLB Trade Speculation: Could Michael Cuddyer Cure Phillies’ Offensive Woes?

As the All-Star break quickly approaches, and the midway point of the baseball season officially comes upon us, the focus of baseball operations for teams like the Philadelphia Phillies changes direction.

Now that teams have sorted through their organizational options, front offices around the game, be it as buyers or sellers, begin scouring the trade market to begin the rebuilding process or add pieces for the stretch run.

The Philadelphia Phillies will certainly be looking to add pieces for the stretch run as buyers. Entering play Tuesday, the Phils boasted the best record in baseball at 49-30, vying for their 50th win against their toughest challenge yet—the Boston Red Sox.

While players and management alike were unwilling to go so far as to call this series a potential World Series preview, those of us around the game with zero commitment to either side know that this could be a sampling of what’s to come when late October rolls around. The Phillies sit atop the National League with their monstrous pitching staff, and the Red Sox hold the second-best record in the American League with the game’s most devastating offense.

So while these two potential World Series combatants could meet again, this series will serve as more of a benchmark for the Phillies than anything. With the Red Sox rolling into Citizens Bank Park as their toughest foes yet, this series may force the Phils to make a move prior to the trade deadline.

Would you trade a top ten prospect to acquire Michael Cuddyer?

    Would you trade a top ten prospect to acquire Michael Cuddyer?
  • Yes 55.7%
  • No 44.3%
  • Total votes: 463

While it’s no secret that Charlie Manuel would like to add a bat to balance his lineup a bit, finding playing time for said hitter could be a problem. The only logical destination for an imported bat would be a corner outfield spot, and even then, with the ever-improving Domonic Brown manning right field and the veteran Raul Ibanez in left, those options are limited.

While benching Ibanez and the remainder of his hefty $11 million salary is an easy decision for the fans, for Manuel and his staff, benching the proverbial “good guy” isn’t as simple. In any case, getting the left fielder going and keeping him going is a vital task for the health of this offense. Leaving him out of the lineup all together for the rest of the season isn’t going to do either part any favors.

With every position on the diamond filled with a regular, at a glance, making a trade for an impact bat doesn’t seem logical, but upon further review, there may be just one guy who fits. With Ibanez’s struggles and the worrisome health of aging veterans like Chase Utley and Placido Polanco, finding a player with a lot of defensive versatility may be wise.

Prior to the season, Phils fans dreamt of Michael Young filling that role with the club, but now that he’s having one of his best seasons in recent memory and his Texas Rangers sit atop the AL West, a trade for him is even less of a possibility now than it was in March.

But finding someone similar to Young may be the key for the Phillies, and a quick glance at this season’s potential sellers reveals an interesting name—Michael Cuddyer of the Minnesota Twins.

Easily one of the season’s biggest disappointments, the Twins, who were expected to contend for the AL Central division, currently reside in last place, behind the likes of the surprising Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals. They’re 10 games out of first place on June 28, and an unbiased review of their roster reveals that they probably don’t have the pieces to make a run.

A lot of executives around the game believe trading some of their players in the final year of their contracts is a good idea, as moving guys like Cuddyer, Jim Thome, Joe Nathan and Matt Capps could bring in some nice prospects for the team moving forward.

If any team was going to have interest in Cuddyer, it would be the Phillies. With a current slash line of .290/.356/.461 and 10 home runs, he’s the solid right-handed bat that the Phils are desperately in need of, but much more than that.

While he won’t be winning any Gold Gloves anytime soon, Cuddyer has played all over the diamond with the Twins, particularly for the 2011 season when they asked him to move into more of a super-utility role. He’s spent the most time this season in right field, but has also played first and second base. As recently as the 2010 season, he has played third base and all of the outfield positions.

His versatility is something that the Phils could desperately use. If used correctly, Manuel could siphon him into the lineup daily, finding plenty of playing time for the 32-year-old Virginia native, be it as a regular in left field, moving Ibanez into a more limited role or playing him at various other positions on the diamond to give veterans like Utley and Polanco a breather.

The biggest obstacle in landing Cuddyer for the Phillies would be his salary. As Jim Salisbury of CSNphilly.com reported yesterday, the Phillies are hovering dangerously close to MLB’s luxury tax, with about $3 million to work with. If they were to wait until the trade deadline to acquire Cuddyer, roughly $5.25 million of his $10.5 million salary for the 2011 season would remain.

Obviously, that gives Ruben Amaro Jr. and the Phils little leverage in orchestrating a deal for the Twins’ super-utility man. In order to acquire Cuddyer, the front office would be forced to overpay for him in terms of prospects so that the Twins would pay some of his salary. Whereas in a normal situation, a guy like Cuddyer may only cost a couple of fringe prospects, now, the Phils may be forced to dangle a top-10 prospect in order to get the Twins to bite.

All in all, however, Cuddyer may be a worthwhile investment for the Phillies, as he fills a number of needs and glaring holes on the current roster. First and foremost, he brings a much better offensive arsenal to the plate than Raul Ibanez. Currently mired in another slump, the Phils’ interim left fielder’s days as a regular may be numbered.

Secondly, he gives the team a more reliable option off the bench. Let’s face it—this team isn’t getting any younger. With Chase Utley’s chronic medical condition and the overall age of this roster, a guy like Cuddyer becomes more valuable. At present, the only viable options for the Phils in the infield in place of Utley and Polanco are Wilson Valdez and Michael Martinez, who boast OPS’s of .589 and .462 respectively.

They say you have to give something to get something, and Michael Cuddyer may be well worth a top-10 prospect as the Phils gear up for another run at a World Series title.