April 30, 2008

Heads Up, Taliban

I read a ton of sports blogs every day, probably too many -- and so sometimes I go into auto-mode, skimming through most of them. But often, when that happens, I'll eventually get to a sentence so unexpected that it snaps me right out of my trance. Such as (via Buster Olney's ESPN blog a few days ago):

Former reliever Jeff Nelson is headed to Afghanistan.

Huh. That's not how I figured that sentence was going to end.

Turns out Nelson is part of a goodwill tour, along with a few other ex-MLBers -- and in all seriousness, good for him. But for a moment there, I thought maybe the government was sending him over to let him deal with the insurgents like he did the Fenway Park grounds crew.

Baseball Player Name of the Week

Pittsburgh Pirate John Wesley Van Benschoten, who, thanks to the Mets, is currently sporting an ERA of 27.00... and who sounds like he could actually have been a literal pirate. Didn't I once read about some fabled sea battle between him and Sir Francis Drake?

Also, here's an extremely promising NotW prospect, via a blog called We Got A Guy There: Oklahoma State's Rebel Ridling.

God, I'd give anything to get him on the same team as Cody Ransom one day.

April 29, 2008

Let's See Pedro Fix a Hard Drive

So, the Mets are looking a bit better these days... though it seems every time I say that, they go on a losing streak. Whatever else happens, it's awesome that seventh starter Nelson Figueroa has been more than just a feel-good story. Furthermore (and I don't know how I missed this earlier), according to a 2002 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, he's also an electronics whiz:

"He's incredible," Brewers manager Jerry Royster said. "When we were in Cincinnati, my computer went down. My hard drive was totally shot. He maneuvered around and somehow came up with a system that would allow me to do all my work.

"Normally, I would have to call Hewlett-Packard to get that kind of work done. Are you kidding me? This guy is just amazing."


Not long ago, Brewers clubhouse manager Tony Migliaccio was so frustrated with the slow response of his laptop that he was ready to grab one of the autographed bats that decorates his office and smash the computer to bits.

Enter Figueroa.

"I was in here yelling and he came in and asked if he could take a look at it," Migliaccio said. "I was a little nervous about that at first, but I let him. My machine was going through all these setups that I didn't need and it was slowing things down. He went in and changed a few things and said, 'Let me go on the Internet and find you a memory chip.' ... it works great now.

"Nelson is fixing things for guys all the time. He's been invaluable to this organization for all the time and money he's saved by repairing things."

Now that's what I call a small-market team! Anyway, it's a fun article, though clearly not written by a New Yorker:
"Figueroa grew up in a tough Coney Island neighborhood on the 14th floor of an apartment building just across the river from the World Trade Center."
"Just across the river"?! Brooklyn Heights is just across the river; Coney Island is an hour away by subway. You can't get too much farther from Manhattan without -- well, leaving the city. And who'd ever want to do that?

Finally, do you buy that Carlos Delgado doesn't believe in taking curtain calls after relatively insignificant home runs, out of "respect for the game"? Or do you think he's just pissed at the fans for mercilessly booing him all season? Either way, he may have a point. But I personally feel that any time you do your job so well that 50,000-odd people applaud, chant your name, and beg you to take a bow, you should pretty much just go with it, you know? How often do you get the chance?

Of course, I speak as someone who, if I'm extremely successful in my field, MIGHT hope to one day get 20 people in folding chairs -- half of them homeless -- to quietly clap for me in a Barnes & Noble basement...

April 27, 2008

Today the Backstop, Tomorrow the World

Watching the Mets-Braves game Saturday, I discovered, to my dawning horror, that there is now yet another catching Molina in the majors. Supposedly this Gustavo, called up from the Mets AAA team during Brian Schneider's absence, is not related to preexisting catching Molina brothers Bengie, Yadier, and Jose... but I'll believe that when I see an impartial DNA test. Is any team safe from Molinas? Sure, Jose has done an excellent job for the Yankees, and yeah, he appears to be a good teammate and a hard worker. But over the years Molinas have absolutely destroyed New York teams -- I know Mets fans will vividly recall a certain Yadier home run; in the 2005 ALDS Bengie hit .444 and slugged .944(!) against the Yanks -- and I don't trust them one bit. Suddenly Brian Schneider's mysterious "thumb infection*" looks a lot more sinister.

The next Tigers catcher.

What do the Molinas want from us, I wondered Saturday, and what will they stop at to get it? Well, I guess that last question has now been answered: nothing. Resistance is futile, and both New York teams have fallen. One day soon fans in Boston and Detroit will wake up to find that Jason Varitek and Pudge Rodriguez have been turned into Molinas. The next domino, though, will probably be Minnesota, where Felix Molina is lurking in the minors. Skeptics, heads in the sand, may point out here that Felix Molina is, primarily, a second baseman. Sure... for now. Watch your back, Mauer.

In all seriousness, losing Posada is a big blow to the Yankees, who are hovering around .500 as it is. It's not a season-killer or anything, but there's really no way to replace his production. Jose Molina has been impressive so far, but keep in mind that making nefarious plans for world domination can be quite stressful. I only hope it won't become a distraction for the whole team.

*... How exactly does someone get a thumb infection so bad it requires an overnight hospital stay? The Mets say there was no cut or other obvious cause. I don't think I want to know.

April 23, 2008

Commence Fretting

I've got a recap of last night's Yankees game up at the Banter.

As for the Mets, I started a post Saturday about how they were really hitting their stride, but I never got around to putting it up... and now, of course, they're in a slump. Everything is just magnified this early in the season, but as I've said before, you have to pace yourself -- which is why I have made myself this handy summer schedule of appropriate baseball emotions:

Fret: April 16th.
Stew: May 3rd.
Worry: May 28th.
Freak Out: July 10th.
Panic: July 30th.Despair: September 4th.
Throw Self into Gowanus Canal*: September 20th

I may need to iron this out a little more -- only three weeks for freaking out, but well over a month for worrying? -- But this is the rough draft. Input welcome. Anyway, I'll write more later, after some mild fretting.

*Never -- NEVER -- actually do this.

April 18, 2008

Baseball Player Name of the Week

Coot Veal.

Okay, so his real name wasn't Coot... but it was Orville, which is very nearly as good/bad.

April 17, 2008

Think Classy, You'll Be Classy

I noticed, during a postgame interview last night, that LaTroy Hawkins -- now wearing #22 -- has a big yellow "RETIRE 21" sticker right above his locker nameplate.

I assumed that was a joke on this whole controversy, at first, and was suitably impressed... because aside from good breaking stuff, a sense of humor is probably one of the more crucial traits in a New York relief pitcher. But no -- per this AP article on the whole fracas, it's actually from retire21.org, a group trying to get Roberto Clemente's number retired throughout baseball ("Ya es tiempo!"). Oh, the irony.

There's even a t-shirt:

On the plus side, Hawkins pitched very well last night at a pivotal moment, as the Yankees slowly and clumsily clubbed the Red Sox to death, 15-9. Not the most graceful game the old Stadium has ever seen.

Meanwhile, there's good news from Shea, on a rare night when both teams were playing (and winning) at home. Jose Reyes seems to have his groove back, after a nudge from Carlos Beltran -- who apparently took three entire seasons to adjust to New York before he could feel comfortable opening up a bit to reporters, bless his mild-mannered soul. Anyway, David Lennon writes:

Carlos Beltran gave us a great story after the game. He revealed that he went to Jose Reyes Tuesday afternoon and pleaded with him to go back to his old ways: the dancing, the handshakes, the smiling, the laughing. No more Mr. Serious.

Since then Reyes has gone 6-for-9 with a double, triple and home run.

“I’m going to be the old Jose Reyes," he said. "I’m going to enjoy my game. I’m going to dance during the game. I’m going to do the handshakes with everybody. I’m going to keep everybody going with smiles in the dugout.”

Here's Beltran: "I didn’t think he was happy. I told him, ‘I want you to be the Jose Reyes you’ve always been. Forget about what people say. Forget what they write about you. Forget about what other teams think. Just be you.’”

Nice! I'll take Carlos Beltran over Dr. Phil any day of the week. The Times has more.

Personally, I'm thrilled -- I really hate the line of thought that says baseball players shouldn't be demonstrative, should try not to show too much emotion on the field. A certain segment of columnists, radio personalities, and fans throughout the years has always wanted athletes to essentially feign indifference at all times; this is supposedly "classy." I think it's just dull.

Granted, you don't want to be obnoxious about these things. But baseball is, after all, a form of entertainment, and it's always more fun when you can tell that the players care (speaking of Paul O'Neill), or when they reveal a little personality. I like Joba Chamberlain's scary-intense fist-pump -- hell, I like Jonathan Papelbon's fist pump. The Mets' handshake routines seem deeply good-natured to me, and if other teams really feel compelled to take offense, well, then that should lead to some good and intense games. You don't want Jose Reyes to dance? Pitch better.

April 16, 2008


So, I've got an article on the Mets' and Yanks' respective Opening Days and new stadiums in this week's NY Press. Click here to check it out.

And! Because too much is never enough, I've also got a post on last night's Yankees game up at the Banter.

In the meantime, I only got a chance to quickly skim through the Mets' win, but it was another stong Mike Pelfrey outing. I'm thrilled that The Legend of Go Big Pelf is spreading.

April 15, 2008

Hello Offense My Old Friend

...I've come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping*,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Of the bullpen blowing a goddamn 5-run lead.

So apparently nothing is going to be easy for the Yankees this season. (Not that it's ever really supposed to be in baseball, but man, one little 1998 can really warp your perspective if you let it). The Yankees were quickly up 7-2, then just as quickly tied at 7-7; but Robinson Cano hit a game-winning pinch-hit home run, and I suppose in this case, it's the destination that matters, not the journey.

On a serious note, that's genuinely sad news about Joba Chamberlain's father Harlan, who's been a great story and an immensely likable presence at games. Here's hoping for his quick and complete recovery, and in all honesty, that's not just because Joba's absence means more Kyle Farnsworth.

Meanwhile, in lighter news, Wednesday's first pitch at Yankee Stadium will be thrown from outer space. Quoth the lucky astronaut,
"From Earth's orbit, but still deep inside the Yankees Universe, let me say, Go Yanks!"
I love the implied dare here: Top that, Red Sox! Let's just hope we don't have another Cold War-style space race on our hands. I can easily see this escalating until eventually Jerry Remy finds himself broadcasting from a rocket hurtling towards Mars.

*Just noticed for the first time how icky this lyric is. Ew.

April 14, 2008

Curses, Foiled Again

I have a lot of friends who insist that baseball is boring, and naturally, I'll argue this point vehemently and tirelessly. But I really hope none of those friends were watching last night's Yankees-Red Sox game. These match-ups do manage to live up to the hype a remarkable percentage of the time -- remarkable given the truly staggering nature of that hype -- but not yesterday; that was long, slow, limp, and dispiriting. The fact that Jon Miller and Joe Morgan were our narrators certainly didn't help any. Sometime around the 7th, feeling an increasingly violent urge to start chewing through my own ankle, I muted the game, put on some music, and looked over periodically to make sure the Yankees weren't mounting a dramatic comeback.

They weren't.

Meanwhile, I certainly hope the organization isn't going to press charges against the construction worker who buried a Red Sox shirt in concrete under the new Stadium, hoping to cause a new "curse." The Post broke this vitally important news story a few days ago, and at first the Yankees dismissed it, but when photographic evidence turned up, they spent a few hours jackhammering and dug it up. Seems silly to waste manpower on that, though when you're hundreds of thousands of dollars over budget, I suppose it's just a drop in the bucket.

Yankees president Randy Levine called this a "bad, dastardly act," and I would assume that was tongue-in-cheek... because no sane human could seriously look at the world and then call this little joke "dastardly," right? In fact, no one who isn't a character in a 1930s B-movie would use the word "dastardly," period. But then I saw that COO Lonn Trost claimed "the Yankees were speaking with the Bronx district attorney’s office about whether there was any criminality involved in the act, and that the team was considering filing charges against the construction worker, identified by The Associated Press as Gino Castignoli, a Bronx resident."

Give me a break. It's all in good fun, isn't it? Besides, Mr. Castignoli was misguided, because that's not how curses work. (Not that they actually work at all, or indeed exist, but you know what I mean). There's always an element of perceived offense or justice in a good, long-lasting curse -- the team has to DO something, to somehow tempt karma or fate. The Red Sox traded away Babe Ruth, the best player in history, for cash; the White Sox, until a few years ago, hadn't won since they threw the World Series. Even the Cubs, who have by far the least dignified of these "curses," supposedly brought it on themselves by kicking a fan and his goat out of Wrigley Field. (And why wouldn't they? I like goats fine, but who wants them at a ballpark? As an organization, you can't let people threaten you with curses every time they feel like bringing farm animals to the game. This story is just plain stupid, even by curse standards).

Point is, you can't just go around burying innocuous items and expect to start a curse. As pure fan mischief, though, this was pretty classic; and if the Yankees were to actually pursue charges against this doofus -- who would have absolutely gotten away with his prank, had he just kept quiet -- well, then you might have curse material.

April 13, 2008

Billy Traber: Quasi Supernormal Incremental Precipitation Inducer?

In one of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books -- yes, I'm a geek -- there's a minor character, a truck driver, who's constantly bitter and complaining because although neither he nor anyone else has figured it out yet, he's actually a rain god:
All he knew was that his working days were miserable and he had a succession of lousy holidays. All the clouds knew was that they loved him and wanted to be be near him, to cherish him, and to water him.
I bring this up because I'm beginning to suspect the Yankees have something similar going on this season. It rained out Opening Day in the Bronx, it rained in Kansas City, it's raining in Boston, and today the weather caused some unfortunate fans to get stuck watching NASCAR, of all things, instead of the end of the game. I figure if an unwitting rain god is causing this, it must be someone new to the team, and so my money is on Billy Traber, who always seems vaguely unhappy:

Rain god or no rain god, the Yanks lost to the Sox today, but the good news is that Mike Mussina pitched pretty well in the losing effort. I expect that, when/if the Yankee offense eventually decides to join the rest of the team, the resulting massive change in his routine will unnerve Moose, causing his ERA to skyrocket.

Meanwhile the Mets lost to the Brewers, 5-3, in Johan Santana's Shea debut. Fans are taking an understandable but incorrect message from this -- I've heard a lot of people say things along the lines of, "Hey, Santana's only human." Nope, wrong. He just wants you to think he's only human. All part of his strategy. You'll see.

Finally, the Mets are currently having what honestly has to be one of the best promotions in baseball, at least in theory:
"New York Mets and Gilman Ciocia Offering Fans Free Tax Prep at Shea Stadium

...For the third year in a row, the New York Mets will partner with the personal tax team of Gilman Ciocia, Inc. to offer free tax preparation and filing to Mets fans attending games on April 12, 13 and 15 at Shea Stadium.

Professional accountants from Gilman Ciocia will be at the Mets Team Store located behind home plate on the Field Level throughout the game to lend this complimentary tax preparation service for last-minute filers. The service that includes filing extensions is free to all Mets fans that have purchased tickets to any of the following games..."
Now, I'm not sure what caliber of tax prep these people will be able to offer -- to potentially thousands of people, for free. But since TurboTax's advice to me at this point is, basically, "Shoot yourself in the head," I suppose it could hardly hurt to try.

April 11, 2008

Pagan Idolatry

Nice wins last night, as both New York teams pulled themselves back up to .500 -- 1.5 games out of first place in their respective divisions -- and quieted a few early anxiety pangs.

The Mets had the more dramatic victory, a tense 12-inning grudge match against the Phillies, further building up a rivalry that still has that new-car smell. I imagine I wasn't alone in doubting the Mets would pull this one off, after Aaron Heilman coughed up the lead. But eventually Angel Pagan (owner of the best name in current New York baseball, even if Pagan isn't pronounced the way you want it to be) singled and Jose Reyes, who'd been at second, beat the catcher's tag by a fraction of a second to score the winning run. Or maybe not; it was too close for me to call, frankly. Either way, while noting that everything is amplified this early in the year, it felt like a big win.

However, I don't think I'll really feel like this season is seriously underway until the Marlins and Orioles are out of first place in their divisions. I know it ought to be a fun story, a couple of disrespected underdogs getting their moment in the sun... but instead I just find it unnerving. And the Tigers are five games back from the Royals? Up is down, black is white, Jason Kendall has the highest batting average in the majors.

Back in the AL, the Yankees looked pretty good, as they tend to do when they manage to score more than three runs. Andy Pettitte had one of those games, increasingly common with him over the last few years, where he gets excellent results despite not actually appearing to be pitching all that well. Makes it all the more impressive, as far as I'm concerned.

Anyway, tonight is the first Yanks-Sox game of the season, and also the first Mets start for Nelson Figueroa, who is awesome. In general, if maybe not at pitching. He's a multi-lingual graphic artist from Coney Island who's thrown in six different U.S. organizations, Mexico, and Taiwan (where he was the 2007 Taiwan Series MVP); when asked this spring what he'd do if he didn't make the Mets, he said:
"I'll play until nobody in the world wants me."
So you've got to root for this guy, clearly. And who knows? Maybe he can be this year's terrifically unlikely Aaron Small-type success story. Unless Angel Pagan's already got that covered.

Finally, via Deadspin, it seems the Rockies are close to trademarking the word (or "word") "Rocktober." I hope they succeed, if only to prevent any organization I actually like from ever using that term.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to rush off and secure the rights to "Emovember."

April 10, 2008

Kid, This Ain't Your Night

I'm supposed to write about Tuesday's Shea Stadium opener for the NY Press, so I won't get into it in detail here. But there was no getting past the fact that the fans were immensely pissed off. While the Mets' play was hardly encouraging, I still think people may have been overreacting a bit to only one week of poor play... or anyway, only one week of poor play this season.

Granted, if anyone has the right to overreact these days, it's Mets fans. I try not to freak out about anything in April, though -- it's a long season, and you have to pace yourself. Otherwise you won't have anything left in the tank for those crucial August freak outs.

The Mets won a big one last night, even if the Phillies looked as though they were doing their best to throw the game while gangsters back in Pennsylvania threatened their loved ones at gunpoint. Kyle Kendrick allowed six walks in two innings to start things off, and the miracle is that the Mets only scored one run while he did it. You could almost see him thinking, "Come on! They'll shoot my wife if we win tonight! WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO?!?"

Fortunately Eric Bruntlett, who did not so much replace the injured Jimmy Rollins as disgrace his memory, helped Kendrick out by blowing several easy plays in the third, and the Mets won 8-2. Hey, it's a start.

Meanwhile, over in Kansas City, Joe Girardi tried to out-think nature. He was not successful.

April 08, 2008

Baseball Player Name(s) of the Week

Well, I'm certainly not going to top David Pinto's discovery of the new Marlins call-up:

Burke Heinrich Badenhop.

Meanwhile, in excellent, long-awaited NotW news, Eephus Pitch favorite Denard Span -- who lost out on the starting center field job to once and former Met Carlos Gomez -- has been called up to the majors. It took a little longer than I thought it would last spring, but, with the weight of representing Spans everywhere on his light-hitting shoulders, he's making the most of it so far.
Of course, it may not last. When the CF job was decided at the end of spring training, Rob Neyer wrote:
"...Carlos Gomez is going to be their center fielder, taking the prize as the best of a bad lot. Well, not bad. Each of three candidates -- Gomez, plus Jason Pridie and Denard Span -- had something to offer. Well, not Span."
Ah, if I only had a nickel for every time I’d heard words to that effect. But I'm sticking with my guy; I think Denard's going to do fine. I might even pick him up for my fantasy team... hell, I'm in last place as it is.

Anyway, I'm off to Shea for the Mets' home opener. If you see a blonde girl in a Throneberry t-shirt, come say hi.

April 05, 2008

Devil Rays on a Plane

I think I may have seriously underestimated Ken Singleton. When the Yankees loaded the bases in the eighth inning with nobody out, he noted:
“For a pitcher, this is sort of the worst situation you can have. It’s like Snakes on a Plane.”
That may be the first time I've heard Singleton -- generally perfectly pleasant but unmemorable in the booth -- make a post-1987 pop cultural reference, but he pulled it off in style.

It was the highlight of an otherwise fairly dismal Yankees game. The Yanks are 2 for 5 now, and the Mets are at .500... but it is, of course, far too soon to worry, so I won't. I imagine things will be looking up tomorrow, with Johan Santana and Chien-Ming Wang on the mound.

Meanwhile, over/under on when the Yankee Stadium crowd breaks LaTroy Hawkins' spirit: June 5. I'm taking the under. You'll know when it happens by the hollow, despairing look in his eyes when he's viciously booed off the mound one time too many.

Now, Hawkins so far has been -- by all accounts, and contrary to my pre-season concerns -- pleasant with the media, and a good teammate to boot. (He has not been a good pitcher, but it's way too early to come to any conclusions on that yet). But New York is especially tough on middle relievers, and taking Paul O'Neill's #21 was a mistake, in terms of both karma and public relations. Morgan Ensberg recognized this immediately and ditched the number like it was on fire.

There is, of course, nothing logically or rationally wrong with Hawkins wearing 21; in fact, honoring Roberto Clemente is nothing but a classy and admirable gesture. I'm not even sure Paul O'Neill really rates a retired number, much as it pains me to admit it. He was a very good player, not an all-time great one, but like a lot of fans I love O'Neill out of all proportion -- he came to New York when I was 12, and was actually instrumental in converting me from a fairly casual fan into the baseball-obsessed nutcase you know today. I would never argue that he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame... but, if I got a ballot, I'd vote for him anyway. (I'd vote for Endy Chavez too. And players with funny names. It's a very, very good thing that I'll never be allowed in the BWAA).

So yes, it's silly and counterproductive to boo Hawkins over this, and I'd never do so myself. But I do understand the impulse.