Originally, I wanted to write a column expressing my dissatisfaction with how Major League Baseball markets its stars, but it’s a common feeling that’s already been written about by many sports columnists. Instead, I want to focus on the organizations that are doing their player marketing right. This mismarketing phenomenon has been most evident with Mike Trout, the five-tool outfielder from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Simply put, the guy is an absolute beast, and he’s just the right player to become the face of the MLB. Aside from his skills on the diamond, Trout is a stand-up guy. The 27-year-old from Millville, N.J. interacts with fans and plays the game with class — yet the MLB has failed to adequately market him.I enjoy watching and analyzing baseball in any form and at every level — professional, semi-pro, college, you name it. But my favorite level of baseball is Little League. Even though I look forward to watching the Little League World Series every summer, I have never thought about why I enjoy watching preteens play ball until now. I think a lot of it is the novelty of seeing 12- and 13-year-old kids play at such a competitive level on an international stage. Little League could easily focus solely on the game itself, only showcasing the talents of these young players (ahem, MLB). Rather, the LL organization has done a fantastic job focusing on the personalities of the kids. For those who haven’t watched a Little League World Series game, each game is preceded by a “get to know the players” segment. This allows the individual players and teams as a whole to showcase who they are; it humanizes the youth-athletes in a way that MLB hasn’t done with its players. The face of the LLWS this year has been Alfred Delia, better-known as “Big Al.” The 12-year-old from Middletown, N.J. let fans know what he is all about in his TV introduction. “Hi, my name is Alfred Delia,” he said. At home they call me ‘Big Al,’ and I hit dingers.”Fans and the media ate this up. Within weeks of his now-famous TV appearance, Big Al had gone viral on Twitter, caught the attention of pro athletes, been featured in numerous articles and even appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” Baseball fans are clamoring for his autograph and pro players, including New York Mets third baseman Jose Bautista, are asking for photos with him.Amazingly, Big Al is signing autographs for fans who would be indifferent about receiving a signed baseball from the majority of MLB players. That is just baffling at first glance, but it actually makes a lot of sense because he isn’t just another baseball player — he is “Big Al.”Last year, I was standing with one of my friends in the crêpe line at the McCarthy Dining Hall and behind us was USC kicker Chase McGrath. In utter disbelief that he was standing next to the USC kicker, my friend turned and whispered to alert me of McGrath’s presence.As humans, we are constantly searching for social connection; we look to relate with others. Professional and even collegiate athletes seem to be so far removed from society we can’t fathom that these players exist in the same world as us — much less eat at our dining halls. Our tendency to regard athletes as supernatural beings is really a strange phenomenon. We, the media, are a bit desensitized to this as we talk to athletes on a regular basis. The average fan is shocked by just casually running into an athlete, let alone having a conversation with one.This summer, USC Athletics has done a superb job humanizing USC football players. Several short videos have been released featuring the interests and future aspirations of the team members. I only hope that USC Athletics has the resources and time to expand this project to other sports and showcase more of the diverse, interesting athletes and coaches we have. My favorite stories at Daily Trojan have been profiles on athletes and coaches. I cherish the ability to show an audience that these gladiators are more than what we normally recognize them for on the field. Each athlete and coach has a personal story and it’s a shame that these stories go largely untold by the organizations that represent them.Perhaps this disconnect dilemma is the media’s fault for not properly covering the players. However, professional and collegiate organizations have just as much as a responsibility to market their athletes as humans and not just athletes. With social media at the forefront of immediate communication and the ability to showcase athletes as more than a player in a game, organizations have no reason to not market their players in this way. Organizations like MLB should learn from the examples set by Little League Baseball and USC Athletics. It makes the viewing experience much more engaging and fun for fans.
Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error Usually, at least an hour before the Dodgers conduct batting practice, Joc Pederson starts in the outfield.Pederson is not there for fielding, but to work on his swing through a game of pepper, a once-common pregame warmup exercise throughout the major leagues now far more common to find in backyards and on little league fields.It is a simple, rapid-fire drill. A hitter chops soft ground balls to a handful of fielders about 20 feet apart. One of them tosses the ball back to him. It’s hit, and the game continues.The Dodgers’ 24-year-old center fielder typically takes part in pepper with manager Dave Roberts, first base coach George Lombard, third base coach Chris Woodward and Juan Castro, a quality assurance coach. “Those are my guys,” Pederson said.At times, they have had guest appearances, joined by Cole Roberts, the manager’s son, and Luke Bard, the son of bullpen coach Josh Bard.It became a pregame ritual for Pederson this season when Dave Roberts suggested the idea in the offseason.“I felt it gives him a way to repeat consistent bat path,” Roberts said. “I just wanted him to be out there. It’s a great game. It helps your swing. It promotes contact. He just really embraced it to his credit.”Many believe it improves quickness and hand-eye coordination, as well. But contact is the source of emphasis for Pederson, who struck out 170 times in 585 plate appearances in 2015, more than 29 percent of the time, and finished with a .210 batting average despite a .230 mark and 20 home runs before the All-Star break. This season, he has struck out slightly less often, 54 times in his first 55 games, with a rate of 28 percent. He entered Tuesday hitting .226 with eight home runs.Pederson agrees that pepper is helping him to work on simply generating contact, but it is also fun. He played it when he was younger, so it rekindles some fond memories of simpler times.“I enjoy going out there and remembering that baseball’s a fun game and to kind of have fun out here,” he said.No reshuffling Roberts said the Dodgers will not use their scheduled off day Thursday to reshuffle their pitching rotation for the weekend series at San Francisco.Clayton Kershaw will start Friday, followed by Scott Kazmir and Mike Bolsinger on Saturday and Sunday.It gives the entire rotation an additional day of rest, rather than bumping someone up or using a four-man staff.Rookie Julio Urias, though, is not assured of starting Monday at Arizona. Roberts said that would be discussed after the 19-year-old’s outing Tuesday night.“I think the No. 1 thing is obviously winning games but also just to be mindful of his innings, his usage,” Roberts said.Over four innings, Urias threw 86 pitches, a season high.De Leon backIn his first start since May 3, Jose De Leon threw three scoreless innings for Triple-A Oklahoma City on Tuesday afternoon.De Leon, one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, had been out with shoulder inflammation. He also missed time earlier this season with an ankle injury.At Round Rock on Tuesday, De Leon struck out nine batters and walked one. He threw 37 pitches (26 strikes). He had gone five innings in his last start.Last season, he threw 114 1/3 innings, split between Double-A and Class-A, carrying a 2.99 ERA.Before the Dodgers put another top pitching prospect, Urias, in their starting rotation, they considered adding him to their bullpen. Asked if they might go that route with De Leon, Roberts said no.“Jose is just making his starts,” Roberts said. “Really, I haven’t had any conversations with the major leagues and our club.”AlsoBrett Anderson (back surgery) threw on consecutive days for the first time Tuesday, going on flat ground from 75 feet.