Sunday, March 29, 2009
The former Minneapolis Central High School star played in five World Series with the New York Yankees.
Johnny Blanchard could have stayed in his hometown and played professional basketball with the Minneapolis Lakers, but his passion for baseball led him to the New York Yankees.
Blanchard, a 1951 graduate of Minneapolis Central High School, appeared in five World Series and won two championship rings as a member of the Bronx Bombers. A highlight of his career was hitting two home runs in the 1961 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. The Yankees won the series in five games.
Blanchard's professional career spanned 516 games in the major leagues. In addition to the Yankees, he played with the Kansas City Athletics, the Milwaukee Braves and the Atlanta Braves. He had a career batting average of .239, with 67 home runs and 285 hits.
He played 694 games in the minor leagues, where he had a batting average of .282 and 122 home runs.
"The biggest thrill was putting on that uniform and taking the field [at Yankee Stadium]," said his son Tim of Chanhassen.
Blanchard was to be at the new Yankee Stadium on Opening Day in April, but he died of a heart attack early Wednesday at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale. The Wayzata resident was 76.
Blanchard's high school sweetheart and wife, Nancy, said "it was quite a day" when he signed a contract with the Yankees for $20,000 in 1951. He spent four years in the minor leagues and served in the Army during the Korean War before getting called up to the Yankees in 1955. He appeared in one game that season before permanently joining the roster in 1959.
Blanchard, an outfielder turned catcher, played alongside Yankee greats such as Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Roger Maris. His best year was 1961, when he had a batting average of .305, hit home runs in four consecutive at-bats (a record that still stands) and finished second in voting for the Fall Classic's MVP.
In the off-season, Blanchard was part of a team that practiced against the NBA's Minneapolis Lakers. He averaged 18 points per game and the team wanted to sign him to a contract, but the Yankees nixed the deal, Tim said.
After his baseball playing days were over, Blanchard sold machines for railroads and worked in the printing business. He also coached amateur baseball teams in Hamel, and several of his teams made it to state tournaments. He participated in baseball fantasy camps for adults put on by the Yankees and frequently appeared at baseball card shows on the East Coast.
"Baseball was in his blood," his son said. "He loved the card shows. He'd shake people's hand, ask their name and talk with people. He was the king of storytelling; that was his strength."
Blanchard enjoyed golf and was looking forward to seeing the new Yankee Stadium and participating in an old-timers' game this year.
"He lived a life people would dream of living," Tim said.
In addition to his wife and son Tim, Blanchard is survived by two other sons, Paul, the head baseball coach at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, and Johnny of Minnetonka, and six grandchildren.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Mary of the Lake Church, 105 N. Forestview Lane, Plymouth. Visitation will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday at the David Lee Funeral Home, 1220 E. Wayzata Blvd., Wayzata.
Monday, March 16, 2009
TAMPA, Fla. -- Go ahead and declare that the Yankees have no reliable way to get the ball to Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning. It's actually what Brian Bruney wants to hear.
Reporting to camp nearly 20 pounds lighter this spring, the suddenly svelte right-hander says that he is more motivated than ever and has his mind set on claiming the Bombers' eighth-inning role for the upcoming campaign.
"I like people that doubt me," Bruney said. "I would rather somebody doubt me than call me the best. Tell me I can't do something, and I'll do it. That's how I look at it. Now it's my goal to prove all the doubters wrong."
The Yankees have not set their late-game plans in stone -- at least not yet -- but manager Joe Girardi anticipates that the bridge to the closer will be paved by both the 27-year-old Bruney and left-hander Damaso Marte to begin the year.
Nothing against Marte, of course, but Bruney said that he wants to be that guy.
"I look at it like it's mine," Bruney said. "I've got to prepare for the eighth inning. Until somebody tells me what I'm throwing, my goal is the eighth inning. That's what I'm mentally preparing for."
Coming off an injury-shortened campaign that featured a 1.83 ERA in 32 games, Bruney has done little to hurt his chances, having made a positive impression from the minute he reported to Tampa.
The Yankees had heard rumors of a new-look Bruney making the rounds, but it wasn't completely understood until Girardi actually saw his reliever in person.
"When people had seen him here in camp a little bit earlier, they said, 'Boy, Bruney sure looks great. He's skinny,'" Girardi said. "I was thinking, 'Gosh, what does he weigh, 180 pounds?' I'm thinking he's going to look like Edwar Ramirez when he comes in."
No, Bruney won't be confused for his fellow bullpen mate Ramirez, whom Joe Torre once nicknamed "The Thermometer." But Bruney reported to camp weighing 217 pounds, meaning he had lost another 18 pounds over the winter.
The last time Bruney had tipped the scales under 220, he was a high school junior.
"I look at it like it's mine. I've got to prepare for the eighth inning. Until somebody tells me what I'm throwing, my goal is the eighth inning. That's what I'm mentally preparing for."
-- Brian Bruney
"Every decision that I make now, if it's not helping me in some baseball form, it's not worth my time," Bruney said. "Food, sleep, drink, all that stuff is tailored for baseball. I put the best stuff into my body."
The metamorphosis began after the 2007 season, when Bruney began to shed the first of what would be approximately 40 pounds. No longer satisfied with simply having a spot in the big leagues, Bruney said he rededicated his focus to becoming the best pitcher he could.
"He came in last year in great shape, and a lot of people said, 'Let's see if he maintains that,'" Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland said. "Well, he did. We had a lot of long heart-to-heart conversations."
Eiland summarized his underlying theme: players like Bruney are blessed with great talent to get where they are, and that he would be doing a disservice to himself and his family if he didn't take advantage.
"He doesn't complain about work and doesn't complain about running," Eiland said. "He used to. Not anymore."
Well, depending on the situation. A good portion of Bruney's weight loss can be credited to distance running, though he won't be registering for the New York City Marathon anytime soon. That cardio work is a major reason why Bruney has been able to keep his diet in check.
"I can tell you exactly how many miles everything is," Bruney said. "I'm too careful now. There's no reason for me to have six beers or a double cheeseburger. It's absurd to me. I can make healthier choices."
It beats paying the price. Bruney actually says he hates running and needs to trick his mind into thinking he can go further -- first, just a mile, then to 10 minutes, then just five more minutes on to 15. The most important thing is that, at the end of the day, the work gets done.
"I'm not running thinking that it's going to make me a better player," Bruney said. "I don't run the ball to the plate. I just think that I'm getting into better shape. I'm thinking about everybody in the room -- coaches, players -- and that my job this year is pretty important. I know I can't watch TV and sit on the couch and feed my face all day."
Since he now showcases more energy, Eiland said that he has to fight Bruney back at times when the hurler tinkers with other pitches in the bullpen, assuring him that what he has is enough. That confidence tells Eiland that more success could be around the bend for Bruney.
"His mind is in the right place and he's figured some things out for the better," Eiland said. "It's a great thing. I give him a lot of credit for what he's done, and he's going to play a big part for
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Brett M. Gardner (born August 24, 1983 in Holly Hill, South Carolina) is an American Major League Baseball outfielder for the New York Yankees.
Gardner, who is 5' 10", plays center field and bats and throws left-handed. In 2007, he was the 10th rated prospect in the Yankees minor league system according to Base America
Gardner was a walk-on and three-year starter at the College of Charleston (CofC). In 2004, he was a Southern Conference All Star. His .447 batting average was third in the nation in 2005, and his 122 hits tied for the most hits in the country. His 85 runs in 2005 is the all-time record at CofC, and his 38 stolen bases led the Southern Conference. He wrapped up his Cougar career as a third team All-American and Southern Conference all-star, sporting a .382/.456/.508 career line, mostly from the lead-off spot.
He was drafted in the 3rd round in 2005 by the Yankees after his junior year, and received a $210,000 bonus.
Gardner adjusted well to wood bats in 2005, and finished the season in the New York-Penn League season ranking 5th in at bats (with 282), 2nd in runs (62), and 5th in stolen bases (19).
He was a Florida State League all star in 2006, batting .323 in 63 games with 22 RBIs with the Tampa Yankees. He was 3rd in the Florida State League in batting average, and led the league in stolen bases with 30. Gardner also was second in the league in walks with 47.
In 2007, he played 54 games for the Double-A Trenton Thunder, though he missed time with a broken bone in his hand. In 203 at bats, he stole 18 bases (tied for 5th in the league; while being caught 4 times), hit 5 triples, and batted .300 with a .392 OBP, before being promoted to Scranton/Wilkes Barre. There, in 45 games he batted .260 with a .343 OBP, and stole 21 bases while being caught only 3 times.
Through 2007 in the minor leagues, he has a .288 batting average, .381 obp, and .374 slugging percentage. He has stolen 114 bases, and been caught 22 times.
In the fall of 2007, he played in 26 games in the Arizona Fall League, leading it runs (27) and in stolen bases with 16, while being caught only once. He batted .343 (5th in the league) with a .433 obp (3rd), and was 3rd in the league in walks (17).
Playing for the Triple-A Scranton Wilkes Barre Yankees in 2008, in 94 games Gardner was 2nd in the International League with a .414 on base percentage, 70 walks, and 11 triples, and 6th in the IL with 37 stolen bases while being caught only 9 times.
New York Yankees (2008-present)
On June 30, 2008, Gardner was called up and made his major league debut, batting lead-off and going 0 for 3 with a stolen base. On July 2, he got both his first hit and first RBI off fellow rookie, Texas Rangers relief pitcher Warner Madrigal, in the seventh inning. Gardner went on to steal second and eventually score in that inning. On July 6, 2008, Gardner started in left field in place of the injured Johnny Damon. He went 2 for 5, including a two-out, game-winning single up the middle off of Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon.
On July 26, 2008, Gardner was optioned back to AAA after the acquisition of Xavier Nady, in order to continue to receive playing time.
On August 15, 2008, Gardner was called back up to the big leagues
On August 16, 2008, Gardner in his second game after being called up went 3-5 with a double and two singles, including a game-winning single with which he knocked in Robinson Cano in the bottom of the 13th against the Kansas City Royals. It was Gardner's second walk-off hit as a Yankee. His first was on July 6, 2008 against the Boston Red Sox again scoring Robinson Cano in the bottom of the 10th.
On September 21, 2008, Gardner scored the final run of Major League Baseball in Yankee Stadium history as a pinch runner for Jason Giambi, scoring on a sacrifice fly by Cano in the seventh inning of an eventual 7-3 win for the Yankees over the Baltimore Orioles.
On February 25, 2009 he hit the first home run of spring training. He was leading off and hit it his first at bat.
Gardner's legs are his strength. He's the fastest baserunner in the organization, has 80 speed on a 20-80 scale, and has solid baserunning instincts. He's adept at picking spots, knowing when it's more valuable to the team for him to use the threat of a stolen base to get the pitcher to throw fastballs to the heart of the order.
He has outstanding plate discipline, draws a good number of walks, and uses the whole field while making consistent, hard contact. Baseball America rated him as having the best strike zone discipline in the Yankees minor league system after the close of the 2006 season.
His speed and excellent sense in the outfield translate to an outstanding defensive game, among the best in the Yankee farm system. His arm is average, though fairly accurate.
On March 14, 2008, Yankee Manager Joe Girardi said of Gardner: “He’s an exciting player. He creates havoc.”
Brett and his wife Jessica had their first son, Thomas Hunter, on November 21st, 2008.