MLB personalities weigh in on hockey

MLB personalities weigh in on hockey

PITTSBURGH -- Hockey-mania has taken over the cities of Detroit and Pittsburgh, where, for the second consecutive year, both cities are vying for the Stanley Cup. After Tuesday's Game 3 in Pittsburgh, the Red Wings lead the Penguins, two games to one.

That quest for the Cup and the intrigue of the National Hockey League Final is also attracting some attention in baseball clubhouses across the continent.

In fact, Major League Baseball has numerous connections to hockey. Inside those baseball clubhouses are various former hockey players, some of whom played at the highest junior levels.

Dodgers outfielder Jamie Hoffmann was at one point an NHL draftee. He had even committed to play hockey for Colorado College before backing out on that agreement at the last minute to sign with the Dodgers.

Pirates outfielder Nyjer Morgan, once with dreams of playing both sports professionally, gave up a hockey career and played baseball at Walla Walla Community College in the state of Washington. Two years later, he was a 33rd-round Draft pick by Pittsburgh.

And many are already familiar with the story of Braves pitcher Tom Glavine, who was the 69th pick in the 1984 NHL Draft and the 47th overall pick by Atlanta in that year's baseball Draft.

Then there are the Canadian Major Leaguers, who, when asked, admitted that, yes, hockey still sits close to the heart.

"You had to be [a hockey fan]," Trail, British Columbia, native and Red Sox outfielder Jason Bay said. "It's by far, number one. That's just what you grew up doing. When I go back for Christmas and stuff, it's amazing how fast you get thrust back into it. It's just like, when in Rome, I guess."

Bay laced up skates until age 12. Fellow Canadian and Phillies outfielder Matt Stairs stuck with the sport through high school and passed up offers to join a major junior or collegiate team after suffering a knee injury. It was at that point that he moved to baseball.

Stairs, though, hasn't lost his passion for the ice. He spent time coaching hockey at a Maine private school during his offseason and hopes to get back into coaching the sport again soon.

"For four years I was there, coaching and taking care of their offense," he said. "We went 7-9 over there in the first year that I was there, and in my last year we were 16-2 and then we won a state championship. I just try to bring a positive attitude and a fun time back into hockey in Maine."

Cubs pitcher Rich Harden, once a left defenseman in Victoria, British Columbia, still keeps two hockey sticks in his locker at Wrigley Field.

"It's nice to shoot around a little bit, nothing too serious," he said when asked why. "Kills some time, stress relief. It's nice to have here."

Hockey roots aren't limited to the clubhouses, though, as there are also plenty of connections in the front offices.

Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash owns a stake in the Milwaukee Admirals, the American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL's Nashville Predators. Former Brewers pitcher Ben Sheets and Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio are also involved with the Admirals.

"Unfortunately, I don't get to follow hockey all that closely, but I enjoy it tremendously when I do get a chance to watch a game," said Ash, a Toronto native. "I don't know if there's anything much more exciting than NHL Stanley Cup playoffs."

And of course there is Tigers owner Michael Ilitch, who also owns a Red Wings franchise that is after its fifth NHL title in the past 12 years.

So with the pursuit for the Stanley Cup in full force, here are some predictions -- made before the Finals began on Saturday -- from those passionate hockey fans in the baseball realm:

Stairs: "I'm not rooting for anybody. I'm just hoping for a good series. You know, Detroit moves the puck around extremely well. Maybe they might pass a little too much when they're on the power play or at certain times. And Pittsburgh's got two great players and a hot goaltender, so there's no way you can really pick who's going to win, I don't think. If both teams are playing on the top of their game, it's going to be a [great] series."

Brewers manager and Pittsburgh native Ken Macha: "I got to see all the games last year because I was home. The Red Wings pretty much shut Evgeni Malkin down, and if they do that it will be interesting. We'll see if he shows up."

Royals broadcaster and hockey buff Denny Matthews: "I would think the Detroit Red Wings would be favored because they have tremendous depth and experience. Their fourth line would be the second line on some teams and maybe even the first line on other teams. All their lines can score, all their lines can play defense. And their goalie is good and is experienced."

Bay: "I'm rooting for Pittsburgh. I played there. I got to follow them a little bit and meet some of those guys. Not just in hockey, but any sport, I like to see the parity where there's new blood and Detroit is one of those teams that's good every year. I think it would be better for hockey, especially the city of Pittsburgh, if the Penguins and Sidney [Crosby] and those young guys, if they won one."

Detroit's Brandon Inge: "Red Wings in five games. I don't follow it much, but I'm a loyal [Red Wings] fan. I want them to play well and win. They've got a good group of guys on that team."

Ash: "Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, I think it's going to be Detroit in six games."

Pittsburgh outfielder, Michigan native and Red Wings fan Nate McLouth: "I think the champions are the champions until they're dethroned. I think it's going to be Detroit in six games like it was last year."

Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga: "Detroit. These guys are really good and play hard. And they play with a lot of heart. Most of [MLB's] Latin guys, they never see any hockey. We don't have any hockey in our countries. The first time I was [at a hockey game], I wanted to come back."

Harden: "That's a tough one. I have to say Red Wings. They have a really good team. I don't see Pittsburgh beating them. As much as I want to see other teams win, I don't think they can do it."

And maybe the man with the biggest dilemma...

Detroit manager, but Pittsburgh resident, Jim Leyland: "I hope the best team wins. That's all I have to say about it."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for reporters Ken Gurnick, Carrie Muskat, Ian Browne, Adam McCalvy and Dick Kaegel contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.