Matthews: A Quick Visit With Zippy Chippy

posted by Bob Matthews - 

A QUICK VISIT With ZIPPY CHIPPY...WHO IS SLOWER THAN EVER...BUT VERY HAPPY

WILLIANS ASTODILLO IS MY RED WINGS MVP

WHY THE BILLS TRADED FOR COREY COLEMAN

Before our annual trek to Saratoga Race Course for a day at the races, business writer/sports writer Kevin Oklobzija, Chuck “The Sultan of Suds” Hinkel and I made a short earl-morning side trip Sunday to visit Zippy Chippy, the legendary “lovable loser” of 0-for-100 fame.

70 of winless Zippy’s 100 losses were at Finger Lakes from November 1994 through September 1998. He was infamously banned from Finger Lakes after refusing to break from the starting gate for three consecutive races.

Zippy became something of an international hero as a symbol of trying hard and never giving up. He was on People magazine’s list the 50 most interesting people – or things, I guess, and received fan mail from around the world.

Zippy now is 27 years old and living out his days at Old Friends at Cabin Creek, a small farm in Green field Center, New York, a 15-minute drive from Saratoga Race Course – assuming you don’t get lost.

Old Friends at Cable Creek currently accommodates 14 retired horses, most of them formerly high-class runners. Appreciative ex-owners and donations from concerned racing fans keep the place going. Thousands of people visit the old horses annually. Zippy Chippy has the most lasting fame, the neatest story and is the feature attraction.

We had an exclusive visit Sunday morning, guided by Mark Pepper, who operates Old Friends at Cabin Creek with his wife, JoAnn. They live in a good-sized beautiful cabin on a hill overlooking the 92-acre property. The horses currently live in fenced-in paddocks with protective sheds or “run-ins”, where they eat their hay and seek protection during rainstorms and snowstorms.

I wish I could say Zippy was happy to see us but...well, not at first.

When we drove into the farm, the first thing we saw was a paddock reserved for the great Funny Cide  -- we assume he was the solitary horse at the far end of the paddock (he was not the focus of our attention nor the animal we came to see) -- and a large-sized barn where many of the horses stay during the winter.

Zippy Chippy and his best friend – fellow gelding Red Down South – share the last paddock. Red Down South is 18 years old and they’ve been inseparable since the day in early spring 2010 when owner/trainer Felix Monserrate dropped off Zippy Chippy at his new permanent home.

When we approached the fence of the Zippy/Red Down South paddock, they at first ignored us. Couldn’t be bothered. Too busy shooing off flies. But they eventually decided to check us out and advanced in tandem very slowly – even by Zippy standards.  When Chuck took out his bag of carrots, they accelerated their pace.

They quickly ate their post-breakfast treat and allowed us to rub their faces and up close watch them paw the muddy ground and poop. Red Down South was the friendlier of the two, no surprise considering Zippy’s reputation for being nasty.

Mark Pepper told us about the time Felix visited Zippy a few years ago for a special public ceremony at Cabin Creek. The plan was to have Felix lead Zippy into a make-shift winner’s circle – a place Zippy never visited in his racing career.

The ceremony turned into a disaster.  Zippy was in a bad mood because the ceremony was at the entrance to Cabin Creek and he had been separated from his pal Red Down South, who remained alone in their paddock at the opposite end of the farm. Zippy knocked down the make-believe winner’s circle, tried to bite Monserrate and slowly (but at a quick pace for him) began the walk back to his paddock.

We took some pictures and shared some Zippy stories with Mark Pepper, a very nice fellow who obviously loves and respects the animals that he and his wife are caring for. He said there is a waiting list of former owners and trainers who want to send their former runners to Cabin Creek. It is good to know that some of the horsemen appreciate and respect the horses who wore their silks and made them money.

Mark said Zippy is in good shape for a 27-year-old horse. Zippy has arthritis and gets ornery when the vet comes to check on his feet. But Zippy and Red Down South enjoy the visits of adoring fans, especially the kids and ones who bring carrots, apples and other goodies.

Mark said JoAnn is thinking about moving Zippy to the barn for the winter for the first time this year. The big question is how Zippy would take being separated from his pal Red Down South. My take is that they’d both be very unhappy and that they’ll spend the winter together – in the barn or in theit paddock at the far end of Old Friends at Cabin Creek.

WILLIANS ASTUDILLO HAS TO BE THE UNLIKELY MVP OF THESE RED WINGS

When this season began for the Rochester Red Wings, 26-year-old journeyman catcher Willians Astudillo was an afterthought and no cinch to make the team.

The nine-year minor-leaguer from Venezuela was best known for being the toughest active pro baseball player at any level to strike out – or to walk -- at any level to strike out. In this era of long pitch counts and lots of swings and misses, he has been the least patient and best contact hitter in the game.

Simply put -- he loves to swing the bat and seldom misses the baseball.

Entering this season, in 560 minor-league games, all but 36 of those games below Triple-A, Astudillo was a .311 career without much power.  In 1,979 official at-bats, he had 478 singles, 113 doubles, 7 triples and 17 HRs – plus, of course, only 75 walks and 67 strikeouts. He also had 58 hit-by-pitches and 33 stolen bases in 47 attempts.

He’s 5-foot-9 and around 225 pounds. Sort of roly-poly. His claim to fame as a catcher was no-look throws to pick opponents off first base. He also was recognized for being a great teammate.  He loves the game. He’s eager to play any position when asked. He’ known as a cheerful hard-worker who never complains.

Astudillo has been far more than advertised for Rochester. He didn’t play much early in the season but – due to injuries and disappointing production by more highly-touted teammates – he has earned a regular spot in the starting lineup at third base and catcher.

His surprising performance line for the Red Wings: 63 games; .286 batting average (65-for-227); 15 doubles, 1 triple, career-best 11 HRs, 34 RBI, 8 walks, 12 strikeouts, 7-for-10 stealing bases, .829 OPS (.322 on-base percentage + .507 slugging percentage).

He even spent two few weeks with Minnesota (June 30 through July 12). Who could’ve thought that when this season began? Naturally, he singled on the first pitch he saw in the majors (from former Red Wing Brian Duensing of the Cubs). In 7 games with the Twins, he was 5-for-19 (he started 5-for-11) with a triple 3 RBIs, 0 walks and one strikeout.

Astudillo has become a favorite of Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer, a popular on-line sports source. He describes Astudillo as “Twitter’s favorite large adult son, a free-swinging, human middle finger to baseball’s ‘three true outcomes’ trend.’”

Lindbergh has dubbed Willians “A-Stud”. He wrote that Astudillo’s “memorable mug strongly resembles a blend of Bartolo Colon and Edward G. Robinson.”  Twins reporter Brandon Warne wrote of Astudillo, “It’s a really weird body shape for a pro athlete.”

I wonder if too many baseball people have spent too much time concentrating on how Astodillo looks than on what he can do.

I’ll second the thoughts of Venezuelan baseball writer/analyst Octavio Hernandez, who told The Ringer: (Astudillo) is an anarchist of the present system: an anti-true outcome, K-(defying), chubby batter that consistently generates above-average offensive production. What’s not to love?”

Red Wings fans would agree. Signing Willians Astudillo as quickly as possible for the 2019 Red Wings – at least – would be a very popular move.

WHY THE BILLS TRADED FOR COREY COLEMAN

The Buffalo Bills obviously needed an upgrade at wide receiver position.

So why did they pass on veterans Eric Decker and Brandon LaFell last week? Decker signed with New England and LaFell – as of Monday – still was available.

Because they’re both over 30 years old and aren’t going to get better.

Coleman, the No. 15 overall pick in the 2016 NFL college draft by the Cleveland Browns – and the first wide receiver taken – is young and fast. The Bills were desperate for spped at the position.

Coleman, a star at Baylor, was a disappointment with the Browns – 56 catches for 718 yards and 5 TDs in 19 games – but he had excuses. He was hampered by a broken right hand both seasons and he didn’t have great quarterbacks throwing to him.

He had no excuse for dropping the pass that would’ve beaten Pittsburgh in the final game last season against Pittsburgh that would’ve made the Browns 1-15 instead of 0-16. He was in tears after the game, as was Browns Nation (I assume there is one).

Coleman has the potential to lead the Bills in catches and yards receiving this season – maybe by default. If and when rookie Josh Allen is asked to display his rocket arm, Coleman would be the most likely target.

He also came cheap, reportedly a low draft pick. Looks to me like a worthy gamble.

COULD THE SABRES MAKE THIS SEASON’S NHL PLAYOFFS?

The Buffalo Bills thrilled their loyal fans last season by ending a 17-year playoff drought.

Are you thinking like I’m thinking about this season’s NHL Sabres? Would it be a complete surprise if they ended their seven-year playoff drought?

The Sabres have had the NHL’s worst record in three or the past five seasons. That’s not easy to do in a 30- or 31-team league.

But general manager Jason Botterill, named general manager of the Sabres on May 11, 2017, appears to be doing an impressive job reshaping the team’s roster as the successor to the unfortunate Tim Murray, who inherited a mess from Darcy Regier in 2014 and in three-plus seasons made it worse.

Last season, Buffalo had far too many marginal NHL players -- guys who were somewhere between NHL and AHL level.

Buffalo’s roster for the 2018-19 season’s opener will look much better – and likely perform significantly better – than the team that finished 25-45-12 and scored an NHL-fewest 198 goals.

Last’s week trade for Carolina’s Jeff Skinner gives first-line center Jack Eichel a proven left wing who can score. Other newcomers up front include rookie center Casey Mittelstadt, Conor Slaney, Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka. Throw in Sam Reinhart, Casey Mittelstadt, Kyle Okposo and Jason Pominville and Buffalo has the makings for a significantly better offense.

The defense will be faster with the additions of Rasmus Dahlin and Brendan Guhle.

Newcomer Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark figure to be a  decent 1-2 punch in goal.

The Sabres finished 34 points out of a playoff berth last season. That’s a formidable gap to overcome in one season. Buffalo could improve by a lot and still miss making the 2019 playoffs.

File for future reference: I believe the Sabres, who’ll have four first-round picks in the next two NHL drafts (including possibly three in 2019), remain a long shot to make the playoffs this NHL season – how about a 15 percent chance – but I believe they have a better chance to make the playoffs this season than the rebuilding Bills do at 10 percent.

A FEW STARTLING BASEBALL NUMBERS

The Boston Red Sox are 79-34 (.699 winning percentage) and 45 games above .500 for the third time in their history. They’ve outscored opponents by 191 runs. They’re headed for only the fourth 100-victory season in team history:

1912 – Finished 105-47 (.690 winning percentage)...outscored opponents by 255 runs (799-544)...won the World Series 4-3 over the New York Giants.

1915 – Finished 101-50 (.668)...outscored opponents by 169 runs (668-499)...won the World Series 4-1 over the Philadelphia Phillies.

1946 – Finished 104-50 (.675)...outscored opponents by 198 runs (792-594)...lost the World Series 4-3 to the St. Louis Cardinals.

1912 – Finished 105-47 (.690)...outscored opponents by 255 runs (799-544)...won the World Series 4-3

While the awesome Red Sox are 45 games above .500, awful Kansas City and Baltimore each 34 wins each. They’re locked in a two-team battle for worst team in the majors:

Baltimore – 34-78 record (.304 winning percentage)...outscored 596-438 (-158)...20-35 home and 14-43 away...4.97 ERA (second-worst) and .278 batting average against (second-worst)

Kansas City – 34-77 (.306)...outscored 612-413 (-200)...15-37 home and 19-40 away...5.36 ERA (worst) and .280 batting average against (worst).

THE SAD TALLY ON THE THREE STRUGGLING STARTERS FOR THE YANKEES

After Sunday night’s stunning 5-4 10-inning loss at Boston after leading 4-1 entering the bottom of the ninth inning, the New York Yankees enter Monday with a 12-13 record in their last 25 games. The main reason for the team’s struggle are slugger Aaron Judge’s broken wrist and the slumps of starting pitchers Luis Severino, CC Sabathia and Sonny Gray.

Severino (last 4 starts) – 0-3 record...20 innings pitched...35 hits allowed...9.00 earned run average...5 walks...16 strikeouts...he’s lost a bit of velocity and much of his confident swagger.

Sabathia (last 4 starts) – 0-1 record...19 1/3 innings pitched...20 hits allowed...6.05 earned run average...11 walks...16 strikeouts.

Gray (last seven starts) – 3-4 record...30 innings pitched...30 hits allowed...7.20 earned run average...13 walks...33 strikeouts.

Last 15 combined starts – 3-8 record...69 1/3 innings pitched...81 hits allowed...7.40 earned run average...29 walks...65 strikeouts.

KNIGHTHAWKS CONTINUE TO RAKE IN THE NLL HARDWARE

Rochester Knighthawks owner Curt Styres on Friday was voted National Lacrosse League General Manager of the Year for the second time.

The Hawks started last season 2-0, then lost six straight games, closed fast to finish the regular season 10-8 and advance to the Finals against the powerful Saskatchewan Rush in the Finals, where they lost the best-of-three series 2-1

Styres, who praised his hard-working staff for the team’s successful season, was honored for selecting three players from Ohio State in the first round of the 2018 amateur draft and trading popular star Dan Dawson to Saskatchewan to give the rookies more playing time.

Styres has been a terrific owner and judge of lacrosse talent. He deserves to be elected to the Frontier Field Walk of Fame and the Knighthawks Hall of Fame – no matter where his team will be playing after this season – Rochester of Halifax.

The Hawks have dominated the N LL awards for the 2018 season: Defender of the Year Graeme Hossack, Goalie of the Year Matt Vinc, Rookie of the Year Jake Withers and Styres.

The hardware haul isn’t over. The All-Pro and Rookie Teams will be announced Wednesday. Rochester could have three of the top six rookies in Withers, Austin Shanks and Eric Fannell.

HISTORIC WHITNEY STAKES STIRS MEMORIES OF FIO RITO

Thoroughbred racing history was made Saturday at Saratoga Race Course as New York statebreds Diversify and Mind Your Bisquits became the first horses bred in New York state to finish first and second in the prestigious Grade I Whitney Stakes.

The race stirred memories of the 1981 Whitney Handicap, when legendary Finger Lakes Race Track-based Fio Rito – owned by Ray LeCesse, trained by Michael Ferraro and ridden by Leslie Hulet – became the first horse bred in New York State to win a Grade I race.

Fio Rito, six years old and in his final racing season, went off at odds of 10-to-1 in the Whitney. He broke through the starting gate prior to the race and the assistant starter did a terrific job to keep the horse and rider from running off. Horses reloaded under such circumstances seldom win the race.

But Fio Rito broke alertly and battled for the lead every step of the way. He looked cooked down the stretch but Hulet kept him alive to the wire and they held off multi-time Grade I stakes winner Winter’s Tale to prevail by a neck and win $105,300.

It was a proud moment for all horse breeders in New York state and particularly for all horsemen and fans at Finger Lakes Race Track.

Fio Rito died in 1996 at age 21 and was buried in the infield at his home track.

If you’ve never seen the 1981 Whitney Handicap and Fio Rito’s greatest race, check out the replay on YouTube. It will give you chills. And you’ll appreciate why a horse has a brick in the Frontier Field Walk of Fame.

SHORT SHOTS

Ohio State figures to win its football opener this season – with or without Urban Meyer as head coach – at home against Oregon State September 1. The Beavers were 1-11 last season, gave up 43 points per game, and are 36-point underdogs.

Outfielder Johnny Field, claimed by Minnesota off waivers from Cleveland, is the 69th player to wear a Red Wings uniform this season. That would be a lot for a football team.

The Red Wings will enter Tuesday’s six-game homestand versus Toledo (3) and Charlotte (3) with a 50-61 record. They’d need to go 21-8 the rest of the regular season to finish 71-69 for their sixth straight winning season.

The Major League Lacrosse semifinals Saturday will be No. 3 seed Denver Outlaws (8-6 record) at No. 2 seed Chesapeake Bayhawks (9-5) at 5:30 p.m., and No. 4 seed New York Lizards (8-6 record) at 1-seed Dallas – formerly Rochester Rattlers (11-3 record) at 7 p.m. The winners will meet in the championship game Saturday, August 18, 7 p.m., at MUSC Health Stadium in Charleston, S.C.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO...

Monday, August 6

Ross Cockrell (27)...Wilmer Flores (27)...Charlie Whitehurst (36)...Chris Harris (36)...ESPN’s Max Kellerman (45)...ESPN’s Mike Greenberg (51)...David “The Admiral” Robinson (53)...Dale Ellis (58).

Tuesday, August 7

Jalen Hurts (20)...Mike Trout (27)...Demar De Rozan (29)...Tommy Kahnle (29)...Brock Stassi (29)...Sidney Crosby (31)...Shane Lechler (42)...Edgar Renteria (43)...Dave Wottle (68)...McQuaid/Notre Dame/Chicago Bears Bob Thomas (66)...Fred “Downtown” Brown (70)...Alan Page (73)...Don Larsen (89). Charlize Theron (43) is invited to the birthday party.

ON THIS DATE IN SPORTS...

August 6

128 years ago (1890), Cy Young made his MLB debut for the Cleveland Spiders in an 8-1 victory over the Chicago Colts...70 years ago (1948), 17-year-old American Bob Mathias won the decathlon at the London Olympics...46 years ago (1952), 46-year-old Satchel Paige of the St. Louis Browns became the oldest MLB pitcher to win a complete-game shutout in a 1-0, 12-inning victory over The Detroit Tigers...46 years ago (1972), Hank Aaron hit his 660th and 661st home runs for the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves to break Babe Ruth’s MLB record for the most HRs for one team...40 years ago (1978), John Mahaffey, down 9 shots with 14 holes to play, beat Tom Watson and Jerry Pate in a playoff to win the PGA Championship...28 years ago (1990), Jim Palmer and Joe Morgan were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

August 7

111 years ago (1907), Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators  earned the first of his 416 career MLB wins...82 years ago (1936), Estonia beat France 34-29 in the first basketball game in Olympics history...62 years ago (1956), Boston’s Ted Williams was fined $5,000 for the third spitting incident in three weeks with heckling Red Sox fans...46 years ago (1972), Yogi Berra, Sandy Koufax and Josh Gibson were among the inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame.35 years ago (1983), Hal Sutton won his only major golf title by 1 stroke over Jack Nicklaus...11 years ago (2007), Barry Bonds hit his 756th career home run to break Hank Aaron’s record...2 years ago (2016), Ichiro Suzuki became the 30th member of MLB’s 3,000-hit club.

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