As school years across the country wind down, players are paying tribute to the student volunteers with whom they worked closely in the Players Trust's Action Team program.
On Wednesday night in Philadelphia, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino hosted student volunteers from four high schools who serve as captains of the Delaware Valley Action Team.
The students -- Jaime Collins, Megan Sunderland and Matt Taylor from Gloucester Catholic; Nicole Arnold, Nicole Booth, Dan Cary, Ashley Christman and Brittany Ratcliff from West Deptford High School; Victoria Behrens, Kaitlin Bukowski, Angela Ricci and Luis Sanchez from Camden Catholic and Parin Shah from Collingswood High School - received certificates of achievement from the players.
The students inspired hundreds of their peers in the four high schools to volunteer in a variety of projects serving more than 60 families, including 100 children, while also raising $4,000 to purchase food and clothing for the needy.
The Action Team program, which emerged from the partnership between the Major League Baseball Players Trust and Volunteers of America, continues to grow. Players worked with student volunteers from Boston, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Denver, Detroit, Minneapolis, New York City, Oakland, Philadelphia, Portland (Maine), San Francisco and Seattle this school year.
To date, Action Teams across the country have inspired more than 9,000 high school students to help more than 38,000 people in need by volunteering in their communities.
Plans for the 2007-08 school year call for expansion to Cincinnati, Houston, Indianapolis, Mobile and Washington, D.C.
Yooooouuuuulllllkkkkk: Kevin Youkilis enters the weekend series with the Yankees riding a 22-game hitting streak. That's the second longest streak in the Majors this season, one game short of the 23-game streak by Torii Hunter earlier this year and the current streak of Ichiro Suzuki.
About the only thing teammate David Ortiz would change about the streak is the beard Youkilis is currently wearing.
"The beard is too ugly," Ortiz told the Boston Globe. "You tell him I said so."
While Youkilis may not have the most attractive beard, his approach to hitting is attractive to Red Sox fans. Youkilis said he has a simple approach to hitting.
"Be aggressive, but you've got to be patient," Youkilis said. "Be ready to attack, but be patient."
Youkilis is being a little more aggressive at the plate this year, seeing 4.07 pitches per plate appearance compared to 4.42 last season, the most in the American League. However, he isn't hacking away at the plate; he is actually swinging at fewer first pitches. This year he has swung at nine percent (20 out of 220) first pitches compared to 11.4 percent (78 out of 683) last season.
Manager Terry Francona is ecstatic with Youkilis' hitting, but he also knows there are still a lot of games left on the schedule, so he isn't getting too excited.
"The season's not over," Francona said. "Play the games. You don't know where the guy's going to end up. But he's a terrific hitter. There's no getting around it. He is a good, young, maturing hitter in a really good groove."
Benitez back to the scene of his best season: The Marlins went back to the future, reacquiring former closer Armando Benitez from the Giants in exchange for reliever Randy Messenger. Benitez will join the club for tonight's game against the Brewers.
"We love Armando," Marlins assistant general manager Michael Hill told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "Everything seems the same with his stuff. We know him. We know what he can do."
In 2004, Benitez converted 47 of 51 save opportunities for the Marlins, establishing a club record for saves. He also posted a 1.29 ERA.
"That was the best time he's had on the field and off the field," agent Mike Powers said of Benitez's 2004 season. "He still has a house in Miami and he considers that home. He's happy to be back."
Slow start was Furcal's Spring Training: During his recent 15-game hitting streak, which ended Thursday, Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal hit .482 and raised his average 84 points to a .302 mark.
"I'm just trying to be more patient at home plate, looking for the pitch that I want," Furcal told the Los Angeles Times.
Furcal opened the season on the disabled list with a strained ankle and then got off to a slow start. He batted just .200 in the month of April.
"If you don't play too many games in Spring Training and come into the season and you haven't seen ... live pitching, it's not the same," Furcal said. "April was like Spring Training. I tried to do too much."
Moseley's staying put in the bullpen: Rookie Dustin Moseley, a starter throughout his Minor League career, is staying in the Angels' bullpen despite the team's need for a spot starter.
Moseley is 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA, and don't want to mess with success.
"Just to be in the big leagues, man, it doesn't matter to me," Moseley told the Los Angeles Times when asked which role he preferred. "It's however I can help the team out."
Moseley has done such a good job in the bullpen that manager Mike Scioscia decided to leave him there rather than have him make a replacement start for the injured Bartolo Colon on Saturday.
"We talked about not wanting to disrupt some things that are happening in our bullpen right now, particularly with Dustin Moseley," Scioscia said. "He's really throwing the ball well down there, so it makes sense to give Joe [Saunders] the start."
Scioscia's decision was fine by Moseley.
"I was a starter for six years, so that's kind of what I've done," Moseley said. "If I had my choice of what I would do, having done it for so long, I maybe would prefer that. But I really enjoy coming out of the bullpen. I enjoy the adrenaline rush, the fact that it's short bursts of energy and you go in for one or two innings."
Gorzelanny shows toughness, too: Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Tom Gorzelanny just keeps rolling along. His most recent victory came on Wednesday night in the Pirates 4-1 win over the Padres, when he worked seven innings and allowed just one run while battling a bruised thumb.
The victory improved his record to 6-3 on the season with an ERA of 2.39. While tossing 120 pitches, Gorzelanny earned even more respect from his already proud teammates.
"I'll tell you what: He showed a lot to me, to his manager and to his teammates," reliever John Grabow told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Trust me when I tell you it's appreciated."
Reliever Salomon Torres agrees. "He showed me a lot," said Torres. "He's a young kid who's developing into a superstar, and we're all watching it."
Manager Jim Tracy is also among those encouraged by Gorzelanny's effort.
"He showed, to me, tremendous signs of a very mature guy out there," said Tracy. "In the first inning, it looked like, 'How far are we going to be able to get with him?' He just kept battling. I mean, this guy finds ways. And he kept getting better as the night went along."
Gorzelanny said after the game that he would like to reduce his pitch count in the future.
"I got a little tired toward the end, but I tried to stay focused," he said. "Really, I didn't see anything too special. I threw a lot of pitches, 120 after throwing 118 last time. I need to do better. I'll keep saying this all year: I'm not a finished product."
Coach's tip helps Hill steal home: Thanks to good coaching Tuesday night, Toronto's Aaron Hill became the first Blue Jays player to pull off a straight steal of home since Raul Mondesi in April 2001.
Before the game, third base coach Brian Butterfield mentioned that they may be able to steal home plate on left-handed pitcher Andy Pettitte of the New York Yankees.
"Butter's got one of the best minds in baseball, he's in tune with everything," manager John Gibbons told the Toronto Globe and Mail. "And he said this may work if the situation's right. And I said if the situation's right, go for it."
The situation presented itself in the bottom of the seventh inning with the game tied 1-1. With Pettitte paying attention to Jason Phillips at first base, Hill took off for home just as Pettitte was getting ready for his next pitch. Hill took Pettitte by surprise and by the time he recovered and threw the ball home, Hill was sliding across home plate ahead of the tag by catcher Jorge Posada.
"He [Butterfield] told me if we got to a 1-1 count, we're going to try it," Hill said. "So I started to get a little nervous. Luckily it worked out."
"It just so happened everything was right," Butterfield said. "We had a good runner, an aggressive base runner at third base. We had a runner at first base and we were deep into the game.
"It was kind of one of those roll-the-dice type of things where you hope you get the right break."
Owings can hit, too: If Micah Owings doesn't make it as a pitcher with the Arizona Diamondbacks, he could always change positions and concentrate on hitting.
The rookie pitcher just missed hitting his first Major League homer on Tuesday when his fly ball to right field hit the top of the wall 330 feet away. The ball stayed in the park but Owings was able to get a triple on the play.
"I thought I had it. It brought back some memories," Owings, who was a standout pitcher and hitter while at Tulane, leading the school to the 2005 College World Series, told the East Valley Tribune.
Arizona manager Bob Melvin feels Owings is one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball.
"If I put (Owings) in the lineup hitting seventh, I don't think anyone would be overly shocked. That's how well he swings the bat," Melvin said. "Now, I would have some (upset) guys hitting eight and nine. When all is said and done, he will be one of the best hitting pitchers ever."
Preparation keys Young's success: The Pittsburgh Pirates will be happy if they never have to face San Diego pitcher Chris Young. The 6-10 right-hander improved to 3-0 with a 0.76 ERA against the Pirates after throwing seven shutout innings Wednesday night.
Young allowed only four hits and one walk while striking out seven. In 23 2/3 innings against the Pirates, Young has allowed only seven hits. Pittsburgh is hitting only .093 (7-for-75) against Young.
"He's the only guy in the league who can get away with throwing his fastball right down the middle," Pirates first baseman Adam LaRoche told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
One of the reasons for Young's success is his pregame routine. He spends more than an hour pouring over hitting charts of the opposing players, allowing him to formulate a gameplan.
"I never feel naked out there," Young said. "I have a plan. If something goes wrong, it's because I didn't execute. I'm confident every time I go out there. Show any fear, and they'll take advantage of it."
Young can't really explain why he has had so much success against the Pirates since he prepares for every team the same way.
"We all plan and focus on information between starts," said Young. "First, I watch videos of the other team's games for the previous week to 10 days to see pitchers with my style and what they did. ... I'm looking for tendencies.
"Next, I look at my own videos against the team. Then I look at the charts, look at the numbers. Then I go back to the videos. And after all that, I go over it with Greg (Maddux) or Boomer (David Wells) -- they've got great knowledge -- before I go over the whole thing with (catcher) Josh Bard."
Young was nearly perfect in May, going 4-1 with a 1.13 ERA in five starts. For the season, he is now 6-3 with a 2.42 ERA, an ERA he has lowered in six consecutive starts as he has allowed only five earned runs in his last 40 innings of work.
Shields overcomes rough inning to go the distance: James Shields has been one of the best pitchers this season for Tampa Bay. But that didn't appear to be the case Wednesday against Detroit when he allowed three runs in the first inning.
Shields, however, was able to regroup after the frame and ended up throwing a complete game as the Devil Rays rallied for a 5-3 victory.
"Good pitchers that have really good makeup are able to turn something like that around, and that's what he was able to do," Rays manager Joe Maddon told the St. Petersburg Times. "That was a classic example today of being able to regroup yourself and having confidence in yourself, coming back and pitching a game of that caliber against that team."
Shields, who is now 4-0 with a 3.13 ERA, said he was able to locate his fastball better after the first inning. With each out recorded, he gained more confidence and threw only 82 pitches over the final eight innings after throwing 23 in the first inning.
"When you give up three runs in the first inning it's tough to come back," Shields said. "I never would have thought I'd have thrown a complete game."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.