March 2006

Donnie, I'm Out of My Element

I am a sick, sick person when it comes to baseball. Ask anyone who works with me. I’m the sort of baseball writer who goes to baseball games on my day off. In fact, I did just that twice last week.

And if I had the time to go watch Minor League games, I’d do that too. At the risk of getting all sappy, "this is what the game is all about," yadda yadda yadda, Minor League Spring Training is just a great way to watch baseball. At times, there are four games going on at once, and you can stand in a spot where you can actually keep an eye on all of them.

Today, there were only three games on the Cards back fields, because Palm Beach and Quad Cities had road games. But I trekked out there for the first half-hour or so of Memphis vs. Las Vegas, Springfield vs. Jacksonville and the extended-spring-training guys against a traveling team of some flavor.

And it was fun. I stood right at the fence to watch Michael Parisi, then I’d duck over across the way to watch Memphis hitters who I wanted to see hit (Cody Haerther and Travis Hanson in particular). Parisi looked good as far as I could tell — he pitched at 91-92 with nice sink. He left one ball up that I saw (not coincidentally, it was at 93) and it was hit hard, but from what you can tell from two innings of Minor League Spring Training, I liked what I saw.

Other thoughts/observations/etc. from the Minors…

  • Colby Rasmus, listed at 6’2 and 185 pounds, doesn’t look that big to my eye at all. He does look like a ballplayer, though. In a game a few days ago I saw him hit a laser-beam double to straightaway center, and he moves well in the outfield.
  • Farm director Bruce Manno said that the Cardinals are going to be patient with Mark McCormick, just because the potential payoff is so high. McCormick is far from a guarantee, but his arm is extremely exciting, so there’s no reason to take any chances and rush him. Let him work, let him get innings, let him learn to repeat his delivery, and see what you’ve got. Some pitchers move extremely quickly; I don’t expect McCormick will be one of them.
  • Daryl Jones just looks like a ballplayer. (I know, we’re not selling jeans here.) He has a really impressive body for a guy who’s still only 18. Kevin Goldstein, formerly of Baseball America and now of Baseball Prospectus, likes Jones a lot, and he knows way more about this stuff than I do.

Currently playing on the iPod: more Modest Mouse, this time Good News for People Who Love Bad News.

Yep, two posts in one day, six in four days. I’m out of control. Till next time…

-M.

Cuba

Is anyone else really enjoying Cuba’s success in the World Baseball Classic? Not from a political perspective, obviously — even those of us who lean to the left have no fondness for Castro’s regime. But the players themselves. It has been, to me, a great treat to see these guys accomplishing something that means so much to them.

(By the way, check out this excellent piece on the topic by my friend Jeff Passan.)

Ultimately, that’s why I watch sports. It’s why I love sports. The sporting events I enjoy more than any others are the ones where guys (or women) would give multiple toenails, or even toes, to win. ("You want a toe? I can get you a toe, believe me.")

That’s what’s so great about the Stanley Cup playoffs, and about the Olympics, to name two favorites of mine. You see someone hoist that trophy, or that medal, and you know that has been that person’s singular goal since he or she was old enough to have any idea what it was. That’s exciting, inspiring, uplifting.

And that applies with team Cuba’s performance in the World Baseball Classic. Not that they’re the only ones — clearly the tournament meant a ton to the Dominican Republic, to Venezuela, to Puerto Rico, to the countries where baseball is a central facet of life. But to no one does it mean as much as it does to the Cuban players, it seems to me.

Come Monday night, I won’t be rooting for Castro or the Cuban government. But I’ll be hoping those players win.

Currently playing on the iPod: Modest Mouse’s The Lonesome Crowded West.

-M.

the NCAAs

Remember when people rooted for upsets in the NCAA tournament? Remember the days when, if you went into a bar where everyone was watching a game, the vast majority of those people were cheering for that 14 seed to knock off the No. 3?

It seems to me that those days are gone. Of course there are still people who just pull for the little guy, but the ubiquity of brackets has changed people’s perspective. Now when you go out to watch a game, you’re more likely to hear someone ardently rooting for Kansas, because he has them in the Final Four, than for Bradley, just because it would be cool to see Bradley beat Kansas.

This is not moralizing on my part — it’s not like I’ve never filled out a sheet. That’s not the point. It’s just that I think our relationship to this event, as a culture of sports fans, has changed dramatically in the last 10 years.

When I was in college, I watched the tournament religiously. Usually I had an entry in somebody’s five-dollar pool, but not every year. My interest was the same whether I did or not. I was a huge college basketball fan. And I always pulled for East Tennessee State and Weber State to beat Arizona and North Carolina, regardless of what my sheet looked like.

The last few years, though, I’ve become one of those people. I pull(ed) for the teams I picked to go far, even when I was cheering for Goliath against David. It’s somewhat related to the fantasy football/baseball phenomenon that turns so many people off — when you’re rooting for your fantasy guys as avidly as you root for the team you love, if not more so.

There’s another element, too, I think. The little guys aren’t nearly so obscure anymore. Ten, 15 years ago, who could have named the players from Valparaiso or Richmond before they took down giants? Now we have Bracket Buster Saturday. People study those teams all year round. When everybody spends a week talking about which upsets are most likely, it sort of makes it less exciting when it does happen.

Well, last night, I tried to do my own little part to turn all that around. I have picked Connecticut to win the national title. Not that I know much about college basketball, but I’ve been really impressed with them. Even so, when they were in trouble last night, I was excited. I wanted to see it happen. I wanted to see the kind of upset that would really grab people’s attention. It didn’t happen, but it was fun to think about. And it felt good to be pulling for the Albany Great Danes (what an awesome nickname, too, by the way).

Anyway. Just some thoughts. Not necessarily a better-or-worse thing. I’m not the old guy screeching that things were better in the old days. It’s just something that’s been going around in my head this week.

Currently playing on the iPod: Z, by My Morning Jacket.

-M.

Fantasy Baseball — FULL

NOTE — the league is full. I may set up a free challenge game at a later date.

OK, here’s the long-overdue cool announcement that I promised weeks ago. MLB.com has set up a fantasy league for the denizens of this blog. (Thanks, GK!) All are invited to play. It’s an NL-only, 5X5 league with a live online draft set for Sunday, March 26 at 8 p.m. ET (7 pm Central).

Best of all, it’s FREE! So come show you know more ball than I do. It’ll be fun. To join the league, follow this link:

OYNAGFBL06

(translated, that’s the Obviously, You’re Not A Golfer Fantasy Baseball League 2006)

Currently playing on the iPod: Smitten, by Buffalo Tom

-M.

Roster speculation

With just over two weeks left in Spring Training, here’s my best guess as to the Opening Day roster. This is based on all sorts of things, from playing time in exhibition games to trying to read cryptic comments by the manager to conversations with other members of the staff, and plenty more.

This is not necessarily the roster I would make out if it were my decision. I’m not endorsing any of this. And of course I could be wrong. And of course I could be right as of today and the staff’s views could change in the next two weeks. But here’s my read…

Starting pitchers (5):
Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder, Jeff Suppan, Jason Marquis, Sidney Ponson

Relief pitchers (7):
Jason Isringhausen, Braden Looper, Ricardo Rincon, Randy Flores, Brad Thompson, Anthony Reyes, Tyler Johnson

Outfielders (5):
Jim Edmonds, Juan Encarnacion, So Taguchi, Larry Bigbie, John Gall

Infielders (6):
Albert Pujols, Junior Spivey, David Eckstein, Scott Rolen, Scott Spiezio, Hector Luna

Catchers (2):
Yadier Molina, Gary Bennett

And in the vein of bracketology, here are the "last five out" by my estimation at this point:
Aaron Miles, Brian Falkenborg, Jeff Nelson, Josh Hancock, John Rodriguez.

Discuss among yourselves…

-M.

Cuba-Puerto Rico? Or UCLA-Michigan?

So, last night, I’m sitting in my condo where I stay during Spring Training. And, you know, I’m a baseball fan. Love the game. So I think to myself, ‘Self, isn’t that Cuba-Puerto Rico game going on now?’

You know, the elimination game in the World Baseball Classic. You know, the game between the team filled with stars like Carlos Beltran, Ivan Rodriguez and Bernie Williams and the team that has been the dominant force in international baseball.

And so I think to myself, ‘Self, wouldn’t it be great to watch that game?’ Especially given that it was taking place in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the crowd would be just incredible to boot.

And so I pick up the remote and flip to one of the networks covering the Classic. And they’re showing the NIT. And I go to the other network on my cable provider that is covering the Classic. And they’re also showing the NIT, followed by some regular-season college softball. Not the softball College World Series. Regular-season softball.

Any World Baseball Classic? Nope. Nowhere to be found. I believe it was on channel 14,319 at 3:36 a.m. ET. I would have been delighted to watch the game on MLB.TV, but unfortunately we only have dialup Internet in our condo, so that was out.

I’ve been consistently amazed by how hard these games have been to find on TV. The US-Korea game on Tuesday night was also not carried live on my cable, even though it started at 10 pm ET — not exactly a time slot filled with bigger live events.

I have been geeked about the World Baseball Classic since there was first any acknowledgement that it might happen. And even with that, I’ve enjoyed it more than I expected. The competition has been close, intense and entertaining, the drama has been high, it’s really been terrific.

Moreover, it’s very cool that people all over have been able to watch this event online; I’m proud that MLB.com has offered that. But otherwise, I’m befuddled and dumbfounded that this fantastic tournament has been buried on three-digit channels and in the wee hours of the morning. MLB and the players association have come up with what I hope will be one of the game’s great success stories. Next time around, let’s get it on live TV in prime time when the games are happening, so people in the US can enjoy it the way the rest of the world seems to be.

-M.

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