Tuesday, April 2, 2013

An HONEST Review of Opening Day

I used to have a tradition of going to every Minnesota Twins Opening Day game. It was a tradition that began in my youth, sometimes with my father, sometimes with friends, but always with my team. Without getting too sentimental about hope springing eternal, or stolen moments with those that are no longer with us, it was an excuse to see a baseball game—THE baseball game. Or, it was at least the first baseball game, and there was something special about being a part of what always seemed like a real event.
I know, especially at this stage in life, that Opening Day is really just another day, pomp and circumstance aside. Minus the revelry that accompanies the beginning of a new season, the first game is just another game, one of many that must be won en route to the playoffs. That is, assuming your team is the right combination of lucky and good. 

It would be easy to say, oh, the Twins aren’t expected to be competitive in 2013, and that’s the reason you excitation is muted. Sure, that could be a part of it. Admittedly, it’s a lot harder to be jovial about the likes Trevor Ploufffe, Chris Parmelee, Pedro Florimon, and Opening Day starter Vance Worley than it was for Kirby Puckett, Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky and Frank Viola. No, fighting not to lose 100 games doesn’t carry the same weight as fighting for a World Series. However, winning and losing alone can’t explain why I can no longer muster the level of exhilaration I once seemed experience, even as recently as a few short seasons ago.

If I’m being completely honest, part of my malaise could potentially be traced to not having been gainfully employed since the summer of 2010. At first it was fan-goddamn-tastic, with a severance package that afforded me enough money to fill all my newfound leisure time with as much baseball as one could possibly hope for. But that money didn’t last forever, and neither did the good times. I thought finding a job would be as easy as it was a decade ago, especially with more than eight years of additional work experience and glowing recommendations from my former employers. Alas, that wasn’t the case. That still isn’t the case. Today, rather than having a job that affords me the creature comforts I desire, I struggle from day to day to pay bills I can, and set aside those that I can’t. 

I’ve made every effort to stay ahead of creditors, but not always to the satisfaction of all. All the while I’ve also tried to stay on top of my passion for baseball. However, due to my hectic work schedule, one the requires I work until 5 or 6 AM at times, I seem less able (or inclined) to keep up with my swelling collection of books to be read, games to be watched, and blogs to be written. I had to make a choice between writing for two reputable fantasy sports sites and going back to school for a certification in project management, a decision I assumed could only help build my resume. Sadly, this did little to advance my career. All it did was squeeze one more drop of satisfaction from my life’s endeavors, leaving the remaining cup less than half-full, and reminding me that the cost of living is often far more expensive than anything with a dollar sign attached.

I miss Kirby Puckett. Hell, I miss John Castino. I miss being able to wake up and look forward to perusing box scores in some discarded newspaper I found on the Blue Line on my way to work. I miss the importance of Opening Day, even knowing that it’s mostly a mirage. But mostly, I miss waking up and looking forward to something in my day. I miss baseball.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Opening Dayadness Madness

Kudos to you if you predicted that after [any number] games Rick Ankiel would lead baseball in home runs, Erik Bedard would be the league leader in saves, and the Houston Astros would be in first place. Also, you may want to know that the villagers are forming a mob as we speak, because you’re also a witch! The odds of any of these things happening individually is enough to boggle the mind; having all three happen at once is enough to make Giorgio Tsoukalos ramble on about alien intervention this, and antediluvian conspiracy that. It is, quite simply, a confluence of circumstances that circumvents reality as we know it, rendering all logic useless and risks thrusting the world into a new dark age.

Or, that's the narrative we're all supposed to believe. The fact is, weird shit like that happens all the time in sports. The best team doesn't always win. In fact, sometimes the worst team ends up winning. Just ask the 1969 Mets about that one. 

Does anyone really believe that the Astros will somehow finish in front of their now division rival Rangers? Probably not.  Does anyone really believe that any of the cockimany half-theories espoused by any number of twitter contributors heap upon us (myself included) to stay ahead of the would-be comedic pack of jackals? A few people probably do, but we'll pretend that they don't exist.

The fact is, we're clamoring to make a huge deal over the first game of the season, partly because ESPN has exclusive rights to the only game to open the season. Hooray for their network for having the capitol to artificially create actual rooting interest in a team like the (first place) Astros, but in reality, well, it;'s just one game--the only game. So, yea, we're making a huge deal about it right now, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future (first pitch on April 1). But when the very next game is played, just a few hours from now, we'll all conveniently forget all the artificial importance we placed on the strange and unusual happenings that unfolded before our eyes on March 31, 2012, and we'll settle into our old/new routines of tweeting about the new meme of the day.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Too Braun-y for MLB

Say what you will about Ryan Braun's positive test for PEDs. Perhaps he's guilty of wilfully ingesting an illegal steroid or steroid-like compound, and maybe he's not. The fact that a second, independent test came back negative should cast some doubt upon either the first test or the testing process in its entirety. Reasonability dictates that readers at least consider the later--that MLB drug testing isn't as fool-proof as previously believed. That's right, even in an era of genetic manipulation, interplanetary space exploration, and cable television programs specifically dedicated to the scientific dissection of sport as a physical construct, yes, science can sometimes fail. How?

Well, it should be noted, that science itself is not responsible for the failings at hand, not in the intellectual sense. Rather, the real failing is that of execution. Scientific endeavors are not always executed with the infallibility that would make most of us completely comfortable.

Supplements are not governed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), because supplements, by definition, are neither a food nor a drug. Supplements exist in a nebulous quasi-regulated gray area, one that can skirt the law by leaning on such phrases as "natural", "healthy" and "proprietary blend"--terms designed to make consumers feel as though they have the upper hand in determining the course of their personal health. This is a lie.

In reality, numerous supplement companies have confessed to adding some very un-natural substances to their product lines in order to increase their potency, essentially adding actual steroids to mere "vitamins" to make the steroid-like effects seem as authentic as the real thing. They seem as real because, well, they are real. Oh, that's right, it's possible for the scientists that try to keep MLB clean to be duped by the scientists that are employed by fly-by-night supplement companies in an effort to make money, even at the expense of the general consumer.

Could something along these lines have happened to Ryan Braun? Well, we've been forcefed this excuse a million times before and almost always unsuccessfully so. That being said, it's unlikely that Braun's excuse, even in light of the clean re-test administered two weeks after the initial positive one, will be enough to exonerate him. This goes beyond the court of MLB. there's the court of public opinion, and there, well, it's guilty until proven "we don't care".

Monday, December 5, 2011

CSI (Crazy Signing Indictment) Miami

Okay, so now everyone’s a $100 million player, even someone like Jose Reyes. That’s, well, just great. It used to be that a player needed to be able to do things, important things like stay healthy, before he was awarded $100 million (Chipper Jones notwithstanding). Then along came the remodeled Miami Marlins with nothing but imaginary money to spend and, voila, a “dream” left side off the infield is born. Along with Hanley Ramirez (likely shifting to 3B), the Marlins boast seven All-Star seasons and two National League batting titles on the same side of their projected infield. That sounds pretty damn special, but there could be more to the story. There is more to the story.
Alas, that dream may end up turning into a nightmare for the most obvious reason---health.  Combined, Ramirez and Reyes played in just 67% of their total possible games, largely due to injuries. In Ramirez’s case, some of those bumps and bruises were to the ego, but that’s neither here nor there, right? Yah, in this day and age, health and attitude hardly ever play a role in on-field production. Ugh.
For Reyes, gifted though he may be at the plate and on the bases, there has to be concern over his ability to stay healthy. Since 2008, he’s only played in 295 of a possible 486 games (less than 61%), and that stat, more than the batting title or all the stolen bases really should have guided teams in their free agent pursuit. To be fair, it probably did. It’s not like there’s a glut of shortstop talent in the big leagues these days.  In fact, an (easy) argument could be made that it’s the thinnest position in all of MLB entering 2012. Yet, with virtually every team in need of an offensive-minded shortstop, there were only a handful of teams delusional enough to even begin negotiations with Reyes.
But does any of that matter with the revamped Marlins? Apparently not. The fish, it would seem, are intent on making a splash in 2012 (despicable pun intended). Already having overpaid Heath Bell ($27 million over three years), what was another $106 million to Reyes? Based on his last three seasons with the Mets, the Marlins are (over)paying Reyes for 972 possible games and if they get 592 from him, well, everyone told you so. He’s missed 39% of all games over the past three seasons and that matter is not being disputed. Isn’t that right counselor?
Look, if there’s a way to suggest that Reyes is likely to outperform his contract, feel free to make the case. The truth it, it’s really hard to imagine anyone stepping up to make such an inflammatory assertion in a public forum, much less the court of law that is the internet. Alas, if there is such a brave soul, come out, come out wherever you are…

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Twins Showing Interest in Chris Capuano

For the sake of the team, that interest better be tepid, at best. This is a player that the pitching-starved Mets are going to let walk away because of his demands for a 2-year contract. By the way, how great is it that a pitcher with a 57-64 career record and 4.39 ERA (97 ERA+) is making contract demands? Welcome to the market wherein C.J. Wilson is the best available pitcher [sigh]. In a pitching desert, the Twins have somehow convinced themselves that Capuano will lead them to water. Alas, Capuano couldn't find water in a land with 10,000 lakes--not in the pitching sense anyway.

This is also the same team that just gave Jamey Carroll a 2-year deal for his age 39 and 40 seasons. That'll fix that last place club right up; won't it? If you happen to detect a bit of sarcasm (along with some bile and rage) it's because Jamey Carroll is not the answer to the Twins problems. He's not the answer because Carroll just isn't good at doing the things that the Twins desperately need, namely someone that can play baseball. Carroll's minor league coaches knew this.  In fact, it's the reason why he didn't get a Major League call-up until he was already 28. Had he been good enough, he would have made it to the bigs sooner, right?

Rather than bemoan the fact that Carroll will be in Minnesota for the next two seasons, perhaps it's time to celebrate the move for what it really is--the return of Nick Punto. Oh how the Twins have missed their plucky, little mascot. Now, with Carroll, Twins fans can usher in a return to mediocrity, if they can even make it that far. It was, after all, quite a fall from grace in 2011. It's just hard to imagine any universe in which Chris Capuano and Jamey Carroll are going to right the ship.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dawning of a New Era for Cubs?

Aramis Ramirez, a fixture at third base for the Cubs since he arrived in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates during the 2003 season, has informed the team that he will declare for free agency following the season.  In one sense, it’s a big loss for the Cubs.  Having stability at one position for so long has allowed the team to focus on other needs.  Sadly, many of their plans in that regard have fallen flat (see: the Alfonso Soriano signing).  Still, the team always seemed to have the question of who’s on third answered before anyone even bothered to ask it, and there was always value in certainty.  Another certainty, of course, has been the production Ramirez offered.
The pedigree is certainly there for Ramirez.   He’s  been one of the more productive third basemen in baseball for the past decade.  Many forget he was a solid contributor for Pittsburgh before his penchant for laziness prompted the team to ship him to Chicago for next to nothing.  He originally came over with outfielder Kenny Lofton for a “prospects” that included the likes of Matt Burback, Jose Hernandez and a player to be named later (Bobby Hill).    Since then, Ramirez has reached at least 25 home runs in seven of his eight seasons with the Cubs, leading the team twice in that department.  He also led the team in RBIs on five different occasions.  His 238 home runs are sixth on the Cubs all-time list, and Ramirez is also third all-time in slugging percentage (.531), trailing Sammy Sosa and Hack Wilson.
As one of the top hitting third basemen available in an otherwise weak free agent class, Ramirez figures to be paid, and paid well.  Considering he’s already stated publically that “I think I can play three more years”, it’s hard to imagine Ramirez garnering anything longer.  Sure, it’s a possibility that someone in an act of desperation might extend themselves beyond three years (age 36 for Ramirez), but that would smack of something only a team like the Cubs might do.
While the absence of Ramirez’s bat in the lineup will be seen by most as a significant loss, it could actually provide the team with some much needed flexibility.  It might also prompt the new GM (whomever that may be) to finally embrace the rebuilding plan the Cubs so desperately need.  Despite a few burdensome contracts that remain (Soriano and Carlos Zambrano come to mind), management desperately needs to realize that fielding a competitive team is well out of reach.  Signing an expensive free agent like Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder would make headlines, but it would further limit the financial flexibility of a team already hampered by poor fiscal decisions.  Moving in the opposite direction, and without the likes of Aramis Ramirez, is a step in the right direction.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Nationals Considering Extending Wang

Then again, who among us isn’t?  After waiting the past two seasons for Chien-Ming Wang to make it back to a Major League mound, the Nationals were finally “rewarded” with the former Yankee All-Star finally toed the rubber for Washington in 2011.  While he’s hardly having a stellar season, with more walk than strikeouts and a 4.43 ERA, Wang has apparently impressed Washington team officials with his diligence and work ethic.   It’s also a dramatic improvement from his last big league season (2009) in which he went 1-6 with a [gulp] 9.64 ERA.  Phew.  It’s nice to see progress, but is gumption alone enough reason to simply throw away money?
Baseball is a results oriented game.  If you’re not first, you’re last and so on.  Considering his 2011 season stats, wherever they end up., there’s no way in hell that Wang has earned a spot on the Nationals team for 2012.  Has he?  Considering the direction in which the team seems to be moving (see: Jayson Werth), it looks like they feel they’re looking to contend in the near future.  A pitcher like Wang is hardly in a position to move them in that direction—not now.  In fact, there has never really been a point in time when Wang was good as the accolades he received.
Believe it or not (and only a Yankee fan would), Wang actually finished second in American League Cy Young voting in 2006 after going 19-6 with a 3.63 ERA.  Meh.  He pitched 218 innings that season and retired just 76 via strikeout, a miserable 3.1 K/9.  In fact, Wang’s career K/9 (4.1) is the lowest of any Major League pitcher with two or more seasons with at least 19 wins.  No, that’s not a real stat, but without looking, it seems logical to assume it to be true.  For all the wins he amassed (largely as a result of playing for THE New York Yankees), Wang is viewed in some circles as a solid pitcher because he’s a “winner”.  Sure.  Right.  Werth came from a culture of winning in Philadelphia too, and everyone has seen how is winning ways have translated to on-field success in and for Washington.