This article, published in June by Geoff Grammar of the Albuquerque Journal, was recently awarded as a first-place sports column by the New Mexico Press Association. Grammar spent time with Jim and Tamara Hilliard—the parents of Rockies prospect Sam Hilliard—and learned about their inspiring journey as the Albuquerque Isotopes played host to the Reno Aces in late May.
Jim Hilliard opens up about his fight with ALS, after having not wanted to discuss it “for a long time,” and the column is as informative as it is inspiring.
Jim and Tamara Hilliard are described as an “adopted” Albuquerque sports family, paying visits to watch their son play for the Isotopes. The admirable upbringing and tenacious fight of the Hilliard family is detailed at length, both through the person Sam is portrayed as through his upbringing, and through the fighter Jim strives to be. His late-2017 diagnosis of ALS continues to fade his abilities, but he maintains a positive outlook on life, largely because of his family.
Sam Hilliard hits his 17th minor league home run of the season during this game against Reno, and the article encapsulates the family reaction from their ballpark seats.
Colorado prospect Ashton Goudeau threw 2 2/3 scoreless frames in the Arizona Fall League championship, capping off his time in the league this year without allowing a run. Marlins prospect Jerar Encarnacion’s four-run home run lifted the Rafters over the Surprise Saguaros, 5-1, and the Rockies’ affiliate Salt River Rafters were crowned league champions this past weekend.
The 2019 Arizona Fall League season ended this past weekend, meaning that once the World Series ends this week, baseball fans are subject to either watching winter leagues or old game tape to satisfy their baseball viewing fix until next year. It is either that or staring out the window and waiting for spring, as Rogers Hornsby says.
The Fall League started and ended earlier this year, after typically ending around the weekend before Thanksgiving. The linked article on MiLB.com has a nice picture of Salt River Fields to remind readers of warm times to come at the Rockies’ spring training home in 2020—the Rafters’ league championship banner in the photo is pretty nice, too.
World Series Game 5 featured a called strike three to Nationals’ Victor Robles that ended the seventh inning. This pitch was well off the plate, prompting the discussion of automated balls and strikes yet again.
The Arizona Fall League tested an ‘automated ball-strike system’ this year, and some players weren’t keen on it, citing factors like the inability for pitchers to ‘earn’ calls if they establish consistency over parts of the plate, or the disregard to catchers framing pitches to make balls look like strikes. The art of pitch framing remains a valuable catching skill coveted by elite backstops and privileged pitching staffs, and an automated zone would rule it obsolete.
An automated strike zone would remove the expanding and shrinking of the zone based on count, and would also dismiss any potential bias for the pitcher on the mound (No more “If you're [insert Cy Young winner] you can expect to get that strike call”). In a game where professionalism is revered, unprofessional ball/strike calls can be abolished, along with unprofessional chirps from the dugout about them.
The game has been built around the humanity of umpires, as far as the art of pitching and catching is concerned. On the contrary, the subtle acts of coercion through pitch framing and ‘establishing’ parts of the plate also take away from the simplicity that is an undisputed strike or ball, as widely available pitch data can show us. “A ball is a ball, and a strike is a strike like grass is green and sky is blue,” says ESPN’s Jeff Passan.
In a league where it took ages to even acknowledge instant replay, it’s safe to say this will take a little more than a simple discussion. Nevertheless, a case study on the grandest of stages Sunday night may certainly expedite the process, if change is to ensue.