Director, Erik Nilsen discusses the MLB B.A.T. program

08/23/2016 6:57 PM - Devo

 

The GM's Perspective recently spoke with Erik Nilsen, DirectorBaseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.) at Major League Baseball. B.A.T. was formed in 1986 by former MLB'ers. It was originally funded confidentially to help members of an exclusive fraternity who were in need of assistance and were out of options. Whether, it's medical, financial or psychological assistance, Nilsen and his team are there to lend a helping hand. We were fortunate enough to speak and learn more about the organization and the assistance that it can provide to those in need.

The GM’s Perspective: What is your background and how did you got started with the organization?

Erik Nilsen: I played baseball my entire life. I played Division 3 ball for State University of New York at New Paltz for two years than my final two years at York College of Pennsylvania. I was a catcher at D3 and majored in sports management. My thought process was, if I can’t play professional baseball, I also had a dream to work in professional baseball one day. After school I did some internships (Hudson Valley Renegades) and then found a position with the Mets (New York) as a telemarketing sales representative. I did that for about six months and got promoted to group sales rep. After about a year and a half in that role I saw a position with the Commissioner’s office working for the Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.) It was pretty enticing knowing I could work in the game, but also help people on a daily basis. I went for the interview and got a phone interview with Bobby Murcer while I was working at Shea Stadium. I eventually got hired in December of 2005 and have been here since. I was promoted to Director in August of 2013.

GMs: What is B.A.T., how did it start and what is its purpose?

EN: B.A.T. stands for Baseball Assistance Team and it was started in 1986 in conjunction with Commissioner Peter Ueberroth and a number of other former players as more of a short term organization just to help out some players where their pension really didn't cover their expenses and they were going through some tough times. The thought process back in those years was that it’d be around for a couple years and dissolve. That hasn’t happened. As the years have gone by, the organization has evolved into not only helping MLB players, but someone who has now two years of service as a minor league player, umpire, scout, athletic trainer, major and minor front office personnel. We also help out Negro League players, women from the Women’s Professional Baseball League, widows, widowers and children under the age of 23 of all eligible members.

We make sure a roof is over that family’s head by paying their mortgage or rent directly or putting food on the table. We send applicants reloadable debit cards so that we can track the purchases to ensure the money is being spent on what was approved by the grant committee. We also have a lot of people coming that tell us that their electricity or water is about to be turned off, so we pay the utility bills, medical expenses, health insurance, and prescriptions. We’ve also had cases where we’ve taken care of funeral expenses. We have many different resources on our staff and our board in addition to our consultants. One consultant by the name of Tim McDowell deals with our addiction recovery program. For the people who require it, we send them to 30 day rehab centers, IOP treatments and try to help them get back on their feet. A member of our board is a bankruptcy attorney who deals with our recipients on various debts issues including bankruptcy, credit card debt etc...Basically, if there’s a need out there, our grant committee and board will be very receptive to helping someone get back on their feet.

Our mission statement is to be a short term bridge to help someone get back on their feet. A lot of the times, someone will need just a little jumpstart to get caught up with their expenses so they can become self-sufficient again.

GMs: Where does the majority of the financial assistance come from?

EN: MLB covers the office overhead expenses. They cover the office space, salary, travel expenses...We go out every spring and solicit MLB players for contributions. This year we raised $2.8 million. With the $2.8 million it allows us to help as many people as possible. The money we raise goes directly to our applicants.

GM’s: I read the testimonials (Michael Jackson, Ramon Tatis),  but how do you explain your mandate to people and the impact you have on someone's life when they see players making upwards of $20 million a year (The perception of people who don't truly understand what you do)?

EN: The general public is not really our constituency. Our constituency is the baseball family, but if someone from the general public wanted to understand or justify how we’re able to give grants, the majority of our applicants are the minor league players who didn’t make the millions of dollars. They’ve struggled during minor league baseball life and are trying to work on the transition from playing minor league baseball to actually going out in the real world and getting a full time job with benefits and health insurance. Every case is unique and based on its own merits. Our President, Randy Winn likes to say, “B.AT. is there when bad things happen to good people”.

There’s been instances where someone has come to us where either, themselves or their kids have been diagnosed with cancer and they need support with treatment not covered by their health insurance. Or even a MLB player who played a while ago needing a prosthetic leg. His medicare doesn’t cover the entire thing and he doesn’t have the funds to cover his expenses. Obviously, sometimes people make bad decisions surrounding themselves with people who are trying to take advantage of them. We don't judge people by their past, we’re there to help them get back on their feet.  The grant application is very extensive where we ask for information that pertains to someone’s income, their expenses, any assets they may have, outstanding debt, and of course what they’re looking for help with.

We take everything into consideration. If someone has a million dollar house, our suggestion would be to downsize and make some lifestyle adjustments. We're a last resort for someone who has nowhere else to turn.

GMs: Do you provide life training or anything similar?

EN: We concentrate on the applicants that come to us because we’re so busy as is. Some things we are currently in the process of looking at is vocational training for our applicants. We’re also looking at financial education to assist our applicants at working with a budget, being able to save and having professionals work with them on how to get rid of some of their debt.

GMs: If the general public or anyone wants to assist or donate, how would they go about doing that?

EN: They can visit our website at baseballassistanceteam.com. There’s a donate tab you can click on and it will ask you for the pertinent information.

B.A.T has assisted many people, and the story of Andy Lane, encompasses everything that the assistance program is about. In October of 2015, ESPN wrote a story, "Former Cubs bullpen catcher sees benefits when money from fines goes to charity." He played in the minors for the Washington Nationals and later became the bullpen catcher for the Chicago Cubs. His little boy was diagnosed with a heart condition and they didn’t have the money to support all the medical bills and living expenses in two locations. As the headline mentions, when Major League Baseball fines a player for misconduct, the money will go to humanitarian groups like the Baseball Assistance Team, which can provide financial relief to those in their time of need.

B.A.T. was there to cover some of the expenses so that they could focus on the important things like the health of young Jackson Lane. Jackson will still require some surgeries going forward, but can now, at the age of 1, begin to enjoy the life every young child should have. In the article, Lane told the B.A.T. staff that he would represent the foundation. He toured Cactus League and Grapefruit League clubhouses with his son during spring training with the hope of spreading the word about the amazing work that has been done on behalf of his family.

 

 

"It hits home because a lot of the guys have children at home," Lane said. "[I told them], 'There's a good chance this kid would not be there if we didn't have your help.' This program is real. This program helps people that need it. ... I used to be in those clubhouses thinking, 'I'm never gonna be that person. I'm never gonna be the guy who comes in and speaks [about charities].' You know what? Life happens. You just roll with it."

Devon is the Founder and Executive Director of The GM's Perspective. He is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals & Gateway Grizzlies. Currently, Devon is a Manager at a financial institution in Northern Ontario Canada, and can be reached at devon@thegmsperspective.com. You can follow The GM's Perspective on twitter and Facebook. His full bio can be seen here

Three upcoming interviews, all inspiring in their own right

08/10/2016 8:30 AM - Devo

In the coming weeks The GM's Perspective will be posting three separate interviews. Each have their own identity and have no direct link, however there is one common theme between them; helping out others however you can.

The first interview is with Erik Nilsen, DirectorBaseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.) at Major League Baseball. B.A.T. was formed in 1986 by former MLB'ers. It was originally funded cconfidentially to help members of an exclusive fraternity who were in need of assistance and were out of options. Whether, it's medical, financial or psychological assistance, Nilsen and his team are there to lend a helping hand.

The second interview on the docket is with a multiple World Series champion, Todd Stottlemyre was a first round pick in the 1985 MLB draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. Over his 14-year career he picked up 138 wins and will always be a key piece of Blue Jays history as a player who helped bring the team to prominence. Our discussion not only talks baseball, but the role his father, Mel Stottlemyre played in his development. His father tallied five World Series titles as a coach with the New York Yankees and New York Mets and was a pitcher for the Bronx Bombers from 1964 to 1974. Since the end of his MLB career in 2002, he's been on Wall Street as a trader and now runs his own company assisting people maximize their own potential becoming the best person/business person they can be.
 
 
The third and most eye-opening/awe inspiring interview i have done is with St. Catharines, Ontario native, Ryan Luken. Luken has been a lifelong friend of my wife. Recently, she told me that he was being featured on Intervention Canada. Battling addiction for years, Luken is now on the right path enjoying life with family and friends the way it was meant to be. I'm always amazed by the strength and resilience of those who have dealt with so much over their lives. My interviews with former NBA player Chris Herren and NFL Undrafted's, Chad Toocheck are an inspiration to me each and everyday. My interview with Ryan is no different. He is a stronger person than I could ever be.
 
 
Devon is the Founder and Executive Director of The GM's Perspective. He is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals & Gateway Grizzlies. Currently, Devon is a Manager at a financial institution in Northern Ontario Canada, and can be reached at devon@thegmsperspective.com. You can follow The GM's Perspective on twitter and Facebook. His full bio can be seen here
 
Devon is the Founder and Executive Director of The GM's Perspective. He is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals & Gateway Grizzlies. Currently, Devon is a Manager at a financial institution in Northern Ontario Canada, and can be reached at devon@thegmsperspective.com. You can follow The GM's Perspective on twitter and Facebook. His full bio can be seen here
 

Baseball, the clock is ticking

08/02/2016 10:11 AM - Devo

Baseball...You’re on the clock. For the first time ever a professional baseball game will be played with a time limit.

The Independent San Rafael Pacifics of the Pacific Association will make history on August 7 against the Vallejo Admirals when their game will be played with a time limit of two hours and 30 minutes.

There has been plenty of talk around speeding up the games for the benefits of the fans. One of the first examples of this was used by the SEC in 2010 when they used a 20-second play clock and a 90-second play clock. Most recently, the Atlantic League modified their strike zone and later even experimented with a three-ball walk and two-strike foul out approach to speed up games.

The Pacific Association is no stranger to shaking up the current state of the (their) game. The Sonoma Stompers have been featured in the Wall Street Journal. The Stompers enabled two writers with backgrounds in statistics to run the team (strategy, field position, and sign players). There really wasn’t a way to determine if they were successful until a relative unknown, unsigned and undrafted pitcher signed with the Stompers. Santos Saldivar performed admirably for Sonoma (2-1, 2.05) and eventually signed a minor league contract with the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Stompers also have/had three women on the team. Stacy Piango and Kelsie Whitmore, were later joined by Anna Kimbrell, a member of Team USA’s women’s team since 2006, to play with the club earlier this year. Kimbrell and Whitmore became the first all-female battery in professional baseball history when Kimbrell caught Whitmore for two innings.

You know you're really thinking outside the box when you start tinkering with a game that's been around since the late 1800’s. An exercise of this magnitude will put chills in the hearts of baseball purists everywhere. Even the manager of the Pacific’s thinks this a bad idea!

“I think this is a terrible idea,” said Pacific's President and General Manager Mike Shapiro. “I never want to see this happen in baseball. But since there is so much criticism discussion about speeding up the game, we want to show the critics what a dumb idea it is.”

The idea of a game clock continues to be the most recurring argument after all these years, however a brand new slew of ideas are coming to light from this experiment.

  • Pitchers will have 20 seconds from their last pitch to the next pitch. If the pitcher exceeds that time limit, the batter will receive a ball. The batter must remain in the batter's box during that time. If, in the plate umpire's opinion, the batter is at fault for the pitch time limit to be exceeded, the batter will receive a strike.

  • Between innings, the first pitch of the inning must be thrown within two minutes of the last pitch of the prior inning. The pitcher will be assessed with a ball if he exceeds the time limit.

  • At the conclusion of the running 2:30 game clock, it will be the last inning of play. If the home team is in the lead, the visiting team shall complete its time at bat. If the visiting team is in the lead, the home team may finish its time at bat.

  • The umpire will record the start time and once the two hours and 30 minutes is up, no inning shall begin, except in the case of a tie. Innings that are in process when the time limit is reached will be completed as necessary.

  • If the game ends in a tie, the international tie-breaker rules shall be in effect such that each manager will select two consecutive batters from anywhere in their respective lineups to start the playoff inning on first and second base. The next batter in the lineup would then be the batter that starts the inning at the plate. Once those players/runners are determined for the playoff inning, the order of any subsequent innings will be determined by how the previous inning ended.

For example, if the first playoff inning ends with the No. 6 hitter having the last official at bat, then the following inning begins with the No. 7 hitter at bat, and then the No. 5 hitter at second base and the No. 6 hitter at first base.

  • The inning will otherwise proceed as usual, with each team getting a turn at bat. Should the player starting the inning on second base eventually score, it will count in the statistics as a run for the player and an RBI for the batter who drove him in (if applicable), but will not count towards the pitcher's earned-run average. This will continue so forth and so on until a winner is determined. Both visiting and home teams will have an opportunity to bat in the playoff innings.

A timed game will never ever make it to Major League Baseball, too many factors (financial) will work against it, but it’s not out of the question that some of this will stick. Brad Pitt in Moneyball said it best, “Adapt or Die”. Everything changes. It doesn’t mean the entire game changes, but a great deal of variety is not a bad thing. The forward pass was once illegal, Arena Football is mainstream, the designated hitter was allowed and the height of the pitching mound was altered...Heck, MLB even extended the season to 162 games altering the record books forever.

I’m pretty confident, actually 100 percent confident baseball will never have a time limit, but as time goes by and people want something new, nothing is out of the question.

Devon is the Founder and Executive Director of The GM's Perspective. He is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals & Gateway Grizzlies. Currently, Devon is a Manager at a financial institution in Northern Ontario Canada, and can be reached at devon@thegmsperspective.com. You can follow The GM's Perspective on twitter and Facebook. His full bio can be seen here

Performance enhancers amongst the elite and the underdogs

07/28/2016 9:05 AM - Devo

Clomiphene and Letrozole have caused the UFC huge problems in the past month. In layman's terms, you take estrogen after you take a cycle of performance enhancers because of side effects. When you cycle, your body is introduced to synthetic testosterone. At this point your body is producing testosterone and androgen levels too far above the norm.. The cycle of naturally produced testosterone is therefore halted. Clomiphene will raises testosterone levels. Basically, the athlete isn’t taking anything that produces additional testosterone, but is manipulating their body into thinking it needs more, so it produces more. Letrozole prevents the side effects of exorbitant amounts of estrogen and leaves more testosterone in the system.

Within the past few weeks the UFC has been hit with a PED blackeye. On the eve of the biggest PPV in the history of the sport, Jon “Bones” Jones tested positive for clomiphene (anti-estrogen agent) in addition to Letrozole (aromatase inhibitor). His fued with champion Daniel Cormier has been put on hold again.

Jones has been called the best all-round fighter in UFC history, unfortunately he continues to get in his own way. Amid championships and performances for the ages, his continued run ins with the law set him back time after time. It’s unknown how much sponsorship money he’s lost over the years, but after a dust up with his arch nemesis, Cormier a few years back, he lost a deal with Nike worth six figures.

Brock Lesnar, arguably the most gifted athlete in UFC history, fought longtime UFC heavyweight Mark Hunt. Lesnar won the fight in typical Lesnar fashion hammering his downed opponent with a hellacious ground and pound that not many people could withstand. After years away from the octagon, Lesnar was again on top of the world, until it was revealed that he failed a pre and post drug tests.

Lesnar is a freak of nature. An athlete so awe inspiring and larger than life, it’s almost as if he can accomplish anything. An esteemed collegiate wrestler with an impeccable record, he transitioned that success into an unprecedented run in the WWE where he became the youngest WWE Champion in its history. He left sports entertainment (only to return at a later date) to pursue other interests (NFL), and ultimately began a storied relationship with the UFC where he defeated champion Randy Couture in his fourth professional fight.

Rumour has it the Beast won’t face any sort of suspension from this other employer, WWE. TMZ reported that only full time WWE wrestlers are subject to talent and wellness program violations. Lesnar and Jones will not be facing any fines from the UFC. Punishment will be handed down directly from the USADA. UFC 200 was altered, more importantly, the legacy of two of the sport's greatest stars have been tarnished (again) and forever.

How could two people, the best at their profession, chance a legacy they worked so hard to build? That’s the eternal question. Most people would do almost anything to be in their shoes. The fame and the fortune...it’s worth it right? I can’t say why any athlete would use performance enhancers, but an educated guess will tell you that it’s a to gain a competitive advantage against your opponent. I can only assume that the will to win is so strong that the consequences will never outweigh the ultimate prize.

I’m not an expert in PED’s or steroids, yet it's very evident that sport in general has upped its game in testing for enhancers. Justin Verlander, longtime pitcher for the Detroit Tigers has been very vocal about his stance on the subject after Miami Marlins, Dee Gordon tested positive for exogenous testosterone and clostebol earlier in the 2016 MLB season.

"I think the players, mostly, we're all together. We want a clean game," Verlander said prior to Friday's game between the Tigers and Minnesota Twins at Target Field. "And us and the players association have pushed to where it is now. I think a lot of people will think the other way around. No, it's the players pushing. We've pushed the system to where it's at. And we still want it to be [better]. I mean, we have the best testing system in the world right now. Is it good enough? No."

"The players have been pushing for this. We got it to where it is now, and obviously, [if] we still want tougher testing, then both sides would probably want ... this game to be clean," he said.

The players want tougher testing and still, people continue to push the envelope. Chris Colabello worked his way up from Independent baseball to become one of the key cogs in the 2015 machine that was the Toronto Blue Jays. Come 2016, Colabello has gone from underdog hero to the guy who got suspended for 80 games and is now ineligible for the 2016 playoffs.

Colabello is adamant he didn’t know how ehydrochlormethyltestosterone (DHCMT), an anabolic steroid was found in his system. And he says he will not rest until he has an answer.

“I would never, have never and will never compromise the integrity of baseball. Ever. In my life,” Colabello says in an interview with Sportsnet. “And whether that means taking a performance enhancing supplement—I just wouldn’t do it. I don’t do it. I haven’t done it. I won’t do it.”

One one end of the spectrum, you have an elite MMA athletes with nothing left to prove getting caught on the biggest stage of their career. On the other end, you have a guy who has passed umteen drug tests until failing one in the aftermath of a breakout season. Who’s right, who’s wrong? Who’s telling the truth, who’s full of it?

There is no way to tell unless you are in the head of that person. Speculation is the only certainty. To put something illegal in your body for a competitive advantage is banned across the board and tarnishes the game. There are those who’ve done it and got away with it and accusations follow some of the biggest names on the planet. When it comes down to it, only that person knows the truth. Was popping that pill or filling that syringe worth it? Was it worth the controversy? Was it worth the dirty looks? I don’t have the answer, but they do.

Devon is the Founder and Executive Director of The GM's Perspective. He is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals & Gateway Grizzlies. Currently, Devon is a Manager at a financial institution in Northern Ontario Canada, and can be reached at devon@thegmsperspective.com. You can follow The GM's Perspective on twitter and Facebook. His full bio can be seen here
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