March 2013

Spring Training, Day 18: And on that note, we cue the music

Today was the last full day of my Spring Training 2013 odyssey, with a Braves-Cardinals game at Roger Dean Stadium. Tomorrow morning I fly back to NYC, where I’m told it’s still chilly. 

It’s been a tremendously entertaining, if draining, three weeks, and it’s been great to be back at the ballpark. Whatever my job may require of me in the coming years, I hope it always includes a significant chunk of time actually at baseball games. It’s where I belong, and it’s great to be reminded of that.

Among the impressions that stand out…

* Chris Archer still stands as having given maybe the most impressive pitching performance I saw. Boy does he have some stuff. It’s got to be nice to be able to send a guy like that down.

* Matt Carpenter really looks pretty OK at second base. In short, if he hits like he ought to, the defense will be good enough to play him. I can’t say I expected that. It’s a tribute to him and the coaching staff.

* Most impressive players I saw were Jason Heyward and Bryce Harper. Two guys who just absolutely smoke the ball and are also fairly freakish athletes.

* Evan Gattis is just a hitter. He may or may not break camp with the Braves, but put aside the novelty factor. He looks like a guy who will hit at the big league level.

* Lakeland is still the best place for a game in the Grapefruit League, at least until and unless somebody goes to Vero Beach. Clearwater is the runner-up, for my money.

* Best concession item? Duh – Taco in a Helmet, Port St. Lucie.

* Best meal of the trip? Another no-brainer. Leftovers Cafe in Jupiter.

* Best beer? Green Flash Hop Odyssey Black IPA, at Yard House in Jupiter

Today’s game in a nutshell: Matt Adams’ eighth-inning RBI single broke a tie and gave the Cardinals a 5-4 win. Mike Minor was very good for four innings and then rocky in the fifth. Joe Kelly was quite solid, though not against exactly an A lineup. And Oscar Taveras made a very nice catch to end the game.

Player of the day: Braves outfielder Jordan Parraz was 4-for-4 with an outfield assist.

Miles driven: 4 today, 1654 for the trip

Miles run: 2 1/2 today, 28 for the trip

Starbucks visits: 1 today, 18 for the trip

Up next: A flight to Laguardia, dinner with my wife, sleeping in my own bed, and then the Drive-By Truckers in concert on Saturday night.

Ballpark music note: At about 11:05 am, with the gates already having opened, and the Cardinals taking BP, they played “Battery” by Metallica. That was decidedly unexpected. And very cool.

And, finally, the playlist:

Today is a sad day for me. The Boston Phoenix is closing up shop after decades of being an absolutely fantastic publication. I read it religiously every week when I was in school, for news analysis, local insight, music and arts coverage, and all kinds of fantastic writing and journalism. It was an example of how good an alternative news weekly can be, and its loss will be felt. So in a hat-tip to the Phoenix, it’s a playlist of Boston-area music from when I was in school. Thanks to everybody there. You did great work that mattered to a lot of people.

Letters to Cleo, “Pizza Cutter”
Aimee Mann, “That’s Just What You Are”
Morphine, “Cure For Pain”
Belly, “Feed the Tree”
Buffalo Tom, “Summer”

-M.

Spring Training, Day 17: Back home again on Planet Jupiter

So, somewhat appropriately I think, I’m back in Jupiter for the final stop of my 2013 Spring Training odyssey. This place really feels like home, which I guess makes sense given that I’ve lived more than a year of my life around here. I hit the Crazy Cuban for lunch and headed over to the ballpark for the Marlins and the Braves.

Kris Medlen pitched quite well before coming out of the game in the fifth. He was hit in the arm by a batted ball, and while it doesn’t seem to be serious at all, it would have been silly to push him.

Y’all know, if you read me with any frequency, that I’m not a “soft factors” kind of guy. I don’t pretend to know any of these guys’ character with any degree of certainty, even the ones I covered for a long time. I just think there’s too much that those of us who cover a team don’t know. We can get some read, but I’ve been surprised, positively or negatively, by so many guys over the years that I just think it’s safer to admit that I don’t know.

So, with that said, I don’t want you to think I’m holding Medlen up as a paragon of virtue as I write this. I _do_ think, though, he could be a star. I mean, obviously he could be a star in the baseball sense. The dude pitched 138 innings with a 1.53 ERA last year. He could be an All-Star this year. 

But I mean, he could be an off-the-field star, somewhat akin to how R.A. Dickey has taken off. Dickey of course has other things that make him noteworthy — the knuckleball and an incredibly compelling backstory. But Medlen, like Dickey, is almost disconcertingly honest and funny. He’s got a ton of personality, and an unusual personality. 

Maybe he goes out and posts a 5 ERA this year, and if that happens, nobody outside of Atlanta will notice. But if Medlen has another really good year, you’re going to hear a lot from him and about him, because he’s somebody that writers and TV and radio producers around the country will seek out. 

Today’s game in a nutshell: Medlen and Nathan Eovaldi were both quite good, and there wasn’t a lot of offense. Tyler Pastornicky walked, stole second, and scored on Chris Johnson’s single in the ninth to win the game, 2-1, for Atlanta.

Player of the day: That’d be Medlen by a hair over Eovaldi, since he didn’t give up a run. The Braves right-hander allowed two hits and no walks over 4 2/3 innings, striking out three.

Quote of the day: “I told him the very first time I threw a bullpen, I said, man, I feel like a [jerk] because I know you’ve caught Verlander before.” — Medlen on Gerald Laird

Miles driven: 18 today, 1645 for the trip

Miles run: still at 25 1/2, as I rested today following a rather embarrassing faceplant on the concrete outside the Braves stadium yesterday. Good times.

Up next: Tomorrow is my last game in Florida. I’ll be on Braves duty one more time, handling the beat for Mark Bowman as they play the Cardinals. It’s Joe Kelly against Mike Minor. But perhaps more important, it’s Joe Kelly against Shelby Miller, who will pitch after Kelly as they continue battling for the fifth spot in the Cardinals rotation.l

And, finally, the playlist:

In honor of my time in the homeland, a playlist of Florida artists:

Tom Petty, “American Girl”
Jimmy Buffett, “Migration”
Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Don’t Ask Me No Questions”
Bellamy Brothers, “Let Your Love Flow”
Against Me, “Baby, I’m An Anarchist”

-M.

Spring Training, Day 16: No-hitter watch

Exhibit 14,729 as to how Spring Training is different: 

After five innings today, I took a look at my scorecard and said, “Oh, hey, the Cardinals don’t have a hit yet.” And then they got one, and that was that. 

Seeing them next to each other, thinking about them on the same day, I was struck by the similarities between the Cardinals and Braves. They’re both going to score a lot of runs, thanks to deep and powerful lineups (though the advantage goes to StL here). They both have some big arms in relief and should have quality bullpens (though the advantage definitely goes to ATL there).

And then there are the rotations, for my money are what separates the two teams — and yet in a sense are somewhat similar. The difference is the Cards have one or two more questions than the Braves do. In each case, it could be a very good unit. In each case, there’s an exciting youngster in the five spot. The Cardinals are more likely to have a Cy Young contender, I think, but the Braves are more likely to have above-average performances from their 3rd and 4th guys.

Overall, for both teams, I think it will come down to what the rotations do. If Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook and either Kelly or Miller come up big, the Cardinals could win north of 90 games and win the division. If Medlen comes anywhere close to repeating and Hudson has one more strong year and Teheran emerges, the Braves could have the NL’s best record. But it’s hard to shake the thought in both cases that if something goes wrong, it’s going to be in the starting five.

You can actually take this parallel one step further, in that in each case, I think they’re chasing a team that’s a little better, a little more complete, has a little bit less uncertainty. So IMO there’s a good chance they’ll be in a Wild Card battle with one another as they chase the respective defending division champions.

Today’s game in a nutshell: Teheran was very good. Westbrook was a bit shaky. And the back of the Cardinals bullpen was very, very rocky in a 12-3 Braves win over St. Louis. 

Player of the day: Teheran. He pitched five no-hit innings, striking out six against two walks. Aside from Brian McCann, he’s probably the biggest variable for this team, in my mind. If he’s very good, look out.

Miles driven: 7 so far today, 1464 for the trip

Miles run: 3 today, 25 1/2 for the trip

Starbucks visits: 1 today, 16 for the trip

Up next: It’s one more long highway haul for me tonight. I’m Jupiter-bound once again, spending the last three nights of the trip in my old stomping grounds. For the next two days, I’m on the Braves beat, covering for my good friend and A-1 teammate Mark Bowman as they play the Marlins (tomorrow night) and Cardinals (Thursday).

And, finally, the playlist:

Depeche Mode announced tour dates today. So you get a Depeche Mode playlist, which is fairly easy (or really difficult, I’m not sure which) given that there are something like 200 DM tracks on my iPod. 

“Black Celebration”
“World In My Eyes”
“In Your Room”
“Nothing”
“Everything Counts”

-M.

Spring Training, Day 15: Space Ghost Coast to Coast

Sometimes, I’m a 10 year old. I could come to Space Coast Stadium five times a year for the next 10 years, and I will never, ever, ever not chuckle and think of Space Ghost when I see the name. Then again, if you ever watched the old Space Ghost Coast to Coast show, you know why. That was great stuff.

I saw the Nats and Braves today and it wasn’t really much of a contest. A not-exactly-Opening-Day lineup thumped an almost-exactly-Opening-Day Nationals lineup, 7-2.

And so it got me to thinking about the nature of baseball, and sample sizes, and stuff like that. We lose sight, far too often, of just how much randomness is built into a baseball game or even a series of baseball games. The lesser team wins a large percentage of the time. We’re so used to football, or even basketball, where upsets are shocking for a reason. In baseball, it’s just not like that.

So you get a game like today, with Ernesto Mejia and Blake DeWitt getting key hits in a Braves win over Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals. These things can happen in ANY baseball game, and even more so in a spring game, where guys come out early and you get weird lineups. It just can’t be emphasized enough. Weird things happen in baseball games. 

This then got me thinking about the World Baseball Classic, where there was this great rush to assign meaning to three games. The U.S. goes 2-1, so everything is OK, but if it had gone 1-2, it would mean we needed to re-assess everything? This is madness. The difference between winning and losing one baseball game could be any of a thousand things completely divorced from the relative strength of the teams playing it.

Not that they don’t care. Not that the games are meaningless to the people playing in them. Absolutely not. That’s why it’s fun to watch. But as far as something to draw conclusions from? One game, be it in Viera or Phoenix or San Juan, is just one game. Always.

End of sermon.

Today’s game in a nutshell: Stephen Strasburg was dealing, and then he was in trouble, and then he was out of the game, and then it became a rout. Strasburg explained that he’s really working on getting more effective out of the stretch, and it was with runners on that he got in trouble today.

Player of the day: Facing the Nats’ Opening Day Lineup, Paul Maholm was terrific. He pitched five shutout innings with two hits, one walk and five strikeouts. Excellent work.

Quote of the day: “I know there’s a lot of new TV deals that have made that possible. But I don’t know. I barely know the infield fly rule.” — Fredi Gonzalez, on the fact that some different teams have been spending big in free agency in the past couple of years.

Miles driven: 62 today, 1395 for the trip

Starbucks trips: 1 today, 15 for the trip

Up next: I’ll see the Braves again tomorrow, this time at their home ballpark in Greater Disneyburg. I’ll be on columnist duty as they face the Cardinals, with Julio Teheran and Jake Westbrook taking the mound.

And, finally, the playlist:

Johnny Marr’s got a new album out, and it’s pretty good. How ’bout we delve into his career for some highlights?

The Smiths, “What Difference Does It Make?”
The The, “Dogs of Lust”
Electronic, “Feel Every Beat”
Modest Mouse, “Dashboard”
The Cribs, “Ignore the Ignorant”

(man, how great is Johnny Marr’s résumé?)

-M.

Spring Training, Day 14: Morning comes early

It wasn’t quite full daylight yet when I hopped in the trusty rental car for the trip from Greater Disneyburg to Lakeland, thanks to the time change. Not that I’m complaining, as I’m one who greatly appreciates extra daylight in the evening, but it was a bit odd. Everybody around the ballpark seemed to be moving a bit more slowly today.

Well, everyone except Bryce Harper. I’ve said this before, but the guy is just tremendously fun to watch doing just about anything on a baseball field. This year, though, he does look a little different.

Which is to say, he’s bigger. He looks like he’s growing into an adult’s body. More weight, but I’d swear he’s also even taller. Dude is just big.

And holy cow does he put on a show in BP. He’s one of those guys, like has been said about Pujols, that the ball just sounds different when he hits it. I saw him hit three BP homers today — all of them to the left side of center, one of them to left-center, and all of them well up the berm behind the fence. Even the single he hit was scorched.

None of this, of course, means he’s going to have a great year in actual Major League games that matter. But the more I see him, the more I get the hype. The tools are ungodly. The presence is IMO undeniable. Obviously any number of things could go wrong, because this is a difficult game. But I think nearly any prop bet you offered me on Harper’s 2013 season, and his career, I’d take the over. I’m a full buy.

Today’s game in a nutshell: Rick Porcello was very sharp again, Dan Haren got no help from his defense, and the Tigers held on for a 2-1 win. There were a total of 11 hits and 3 walks in the entire game.

Quote of the day: “I’m the oldest starting pitcher. I throw by far the slowest. I’m the second-best hitting pitcher.” — Haren, asked how the Nationals differ from the other teams for which he’s pitched. (And for those unaware, he’s used to being BETTER than the 2nd-best hitting pitcher, not worse)

Player of the day: We have our first two-time winner. Porcello was very impressive once again, going five shutout innings with three hits, no walks, and four strikeouts. 

Miles driven: 38 so far today, 1,288 for the trip

Roadside sight of the day: As I pulled onto I-4 this morning, I saw a hot air balloon. And then another. And then two more. In total, 11 balloons dotting the sky of the Kissimmee-Lake Buena Vista-Celebration-Disneyburg area. Apparently it’s a daily thing, or at least a regular thing, and you can buy rides. Quite a sight. No, I didn’t take a picture. I was going 75 mph.

Starbucks visits: 1 for the day, 14 for the trip

Up next: I see the Nats again tomorrow, this time at home against the Braves. It’s Stephen Strasburg against Paul Maholm, hopefully the first of many Nats-Braves games I cover in 2013. 

And, finally, the playlist:

It was definitely a wake-me-up kind of morning on the car stereo on the way over…

The Virginmarys, “Takin’ The Blame”
The Bronx, “Pilot Light”
Free Energy, “Electric Fever”
Rancid, “Roots Radical”
Social Distortion, “Story Of My Life”

-M.

Spring Training, Day 13: Taco. In. A. Helmet.

Today brought me to Port St. Lucie, home of the Mets and of the best concession item in the Grapefruit League: Taco in a Helmet. If you get to Port St. Lucie, just go get one. Thank me later. Crushed chips, cheese, spicy ground beef, lettuce, salsa, jalapenos and sour cream in a nice-sized helmet (bigger than your usual ice cream helmet, smaller than an actual helmet).

Anyway, to the baseball.

Today was another episode in the ongoing strange saga of Johan Santana, and I’d be lying if I said to you that I understand what exactly is going on. He’s going to pitch in a game, at some point. But when? Not clear. Whether that will be enough for him to be ready for the first turn through the rotation? Not clear. This is a situation that is best left to the beat writers,and the Mets have some good ones. 

No, rather than actually looking at what’s going on with Santana, the situation instead just causes me to think about what the Mets really are this year. And it may seem silly, but Santana’s health question is really kind of a tipping point for me.

With him, you can look at the rotation and see it being pretty good. I like Jon Niese a lot. Dillon Gee has been effective despite an unusual profile, Shaun Marcum is a nice lottery ticket, and the kids (Wheeler and Harvey) are really exciting.

But it all works so much better with the guy at the front. Santana doesn’t need to be a Cy Young winner, but he needs to be a guy they can count on to be effective. If he’s not there, it really changes the whole look of the Mets starting five, from a unit that has some real potential to one that has more reasons for concern than optimism.

I still wouldn’t completely rule out a surprise. The rotation could still be very good. The lineup is, IMO, better than it looks. But it’s a much tougher row to hoe with Santana a question.

Today’s game in a nutshell: Jeremy Hefner was very good and the Mets hit the ball awfully hard in a 9-6 win against the Astros. New York smacked five doubles among 12 base hits. 

Player of the day: Perhaps the most pivotal Met, Lucas Duda. He hit hte ball hard all over the field, including a double to the opposite field, in going 3-for-3. If Duda lives up to the promise that a lot of people (myself included) thought he had going into last year, it changes the look of this Mets lineup a lot.

Quote of the day: “The same guy that throws really well in the seventh is the guy that should pitch in the ninth.” – Dan Warthen, Mets pitching coach

Miles driven: 36 so far today, 1127 for the trip

Miles run: 6 today, 28 1/2 for the trip

Starbucks visits: 1 so far today (though with another couple hours to drive, maybe one more in the offing), 13 for the trip

Up next: I’ll make camp in Orlando for the next few days, bopping around the camps in Central Florida. Tomorrow it’s Dan Haren against Rick Porcello as the Nats play the Tigers in Lakeland. It will be my first time seeing Washington this spring, and I’m definitely looking forward to it.

And, finally, the playlist:

Let’s shuffle the iPod today, shall we?

Kanye West, “All Falls Down”
EMF, “Children”
U2, “Party Girl”
Cake, “Carbon Monoxide”
Rolling Stones, “Honky Tonk Women”

-M.

Spring Training, Day 12: Paying the Wrench

I was on Yankees duty today, but it was a very quiet day for the bunch of Bombers who took the field in Jupiter. Pretty much all of the big news was in Tampa, where Andy Pettitte threw and Derek Jeter took at-bats in a simulated game.

Somewhat similarly, the biggest news for the Cardinals was also not an on-field matter. The club announced a five-year deal with Allen Craig.

It’s no secret I’m a fan of Craig’s as a player and have been for a while. He’s a pure hitter without many equals, a guy with power, strike zone judgment and the ability to hit for average.

And thus, I really like this deal for the Cardinals. It makes sense in a lot of ways. It buys out exactly the years you want to buy, agewise — Craig will turn 33 in the last full year of the deal. They get his age 28-32 seasons at cost certainty, with a club option on the age-33 year.

The dollars are very reasonable, peaking at $9 million in his last arbitration season, $11 million in what would have been his first year of free agency, and $13 million on the option.

Moreover, I like the thought process behind it, from the club’s perspective. They got one year of free agency, which is just right. If you buy out only the pre-free agency years, you gain cost certainty but not actually any of the player’s service that you didn’t already have. By getting control over the first two years of his free agency, Craig’s age-32 and 33 seasons, they make sure they have what should be the tail end of his prime, without committing to what will likely be his decline phase.

By the way, from Craig’s perspective this is also a very good deal. He gets the guarantee that he likely never thought he’d get as a former eighth-round pick. He gets security against injury worries. Even though this is a good deal for the club, I absolutely understand why Craig took it, and I think he was wise to do so.

It’s the rare win-win. 

Today’s game in a nutshell: The Marlins jumped on Adam Warren with a whole bunch of base hits, jumping out to a 4-0 lead and cruising to a 6-1 win over the Yankees. Nathan Eovaldi walked three and didn’t strike anyone out, but got through four innings with only one run on the board.

Player of the day: It’s a guy I like quite a lot, Marlins catcher Rob Brantly. I thought he was a nice get in the trade with Detroit last summer, and he hit extremely well after the trade. I don’t know how much star potential there is in Brantly, but I think he can be a competent Major League regular right now. Brantly was 2-for-2 with a walk, a double and two runs scored.

Quote of the day: “I think that’s what’s so great about Mo: in a time where a lot of times people are always trying to add on, add pitches, Mo mastered what he was great at. He said, you know what? I can do it with this, and I can be almost perfect.” — Joe Girardi on Mariano Rivera

Miles driven: 5 today, 1074 for the trip

Starbucks visits: 1 today, 12 for the trip

Up next: I’m in Port St. Lucie tomorrow to see the Astros and the Mets, working on some long-term projects and probably writing a column. And, of course, enjoying a Taco in a Helmet.

And, finally, the playlist:

Today it’s a simple one. It’s side 2 of Sticky Fingers by the Stones.

“Bitch”
“I Got the Blues”
“Sister Morphine”
“Dead Flowers”
“Moonlight Mile”

-M.

 

Spring Training, Day 11: Oh no biggie, just Rivera, Jeter and Teixeira news

I knew that taking the Yankees beat for a couple of days would mean I was busy. I didn’t quite realize how busy.

So, yeah. Mark Teixeira spoke to reporters today for the first time since his injury. The Yankees announced that Derek Jeter has been cleared for full baseball activities, meaning he could be in a game before long. Oh, and by the way, Mariano Rivera apparently will announce on Saturday that he’s retiring at the end of the year.

Yankees beat writers, you have my admiration but not my envy.

As a result of the chaos, I don’t really have any fully-formed thoughts about the Yankees following today’s game. But I do think there’s very real reason for concern about this team, and it’s not just because of they guys they’ll do with out in May. It’s unclear what they’ll be getting from their rotation beyond Sabathia. It’s unclear what they’ll get from catcher, third base, DH, and the outfield even if people are healthy.

It could work. I’m not writing them off. But I think there were issues with a fully healthy Yankees team, never mind one as banged up as they are.

Today’s game in a nutshell: It was a back-and-forth affair but the Cardinals had the final say. Kolten Wong’s two-run homer in the ninth tied it after New York led, 6-4. Then two errors and an Adron Chambers single brought home the game-winner — thus sparing Wong from a kangaroo court fine for sending a spring game into extra innings.

Quote of the day: “I have a lot of guys that say they play first base now.” — Joe Girardi, on the available playing time in the absence of Teixeira

Player of the day: Pete Kozma, the presumptive shortstop for the 2013 Cardinals, had a very nice day. He was 2-for-3 with a run and an RBI and turned a sweet double play.

Miles driven: 6 today, 1062 for the trip

Miles run: 3 today, 22 1/2 on the trip

Starbucks visits: 1 today (there’s one literally in the parking lot of my hotel), 11 for the trip

Up next: Once again tomorrow I fill in for the esteemed Bryan Hoch. This time it’s Yankees at Marlins, with Adam Warren facing off with Nathan Eovaldi.

And, finally, the playlist:

I’ve spent several days complaining about the music here at Roger Dean. Well, today, postgame, they played some really good stuff. So here are five of the highlights:

Rolling Stones, “Let It Loose”
Bob Marley, “Exodus”
Steely Dan, “My Old School”
Allman Brothers Band, “Statesboro Blues”
Rolling Stones, “Paint It Black”

(I’m a Stones fan, so they get two. Sue me.)

-M.

Spring Training, Day 10: This seems familiar

This one was like riding a bike. Hopped in my car this morning, drove down Military Trail to the ballpark, parked outside the Cardinals complex, reported to the media room… Even had my old seat in the main press box. A few of the names have changed, of course, but this was nice.

One of the main topics in this morning’s conversation with Mike Matheny was Matt Adams. I’m intrigued by Adams, who I think could contribute right now in the right circumstance. I’m also intrigued because of the possibility that he’s at least partly in competition with Oscar Taveras for a roster spot. I’m not saying they couldn’t both be on. I’m not saying either one of them is necessarily on. But there are limited spots, and both guys are in the competition.

In short, the case that’s made for Taveras (aside from, he’s great, he needs to be there, end of story) is that somebody needs to be available so they can give Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday days off. I think Adams can essentially fill that role, playing first base with Allen Craig going to the outfield on those days. 

And while I definitely understand the groundswell for Taveras, I think there’s a real case for Adams. Matheny laid out part of it today — Adams is at a point where he really doesn’t NEED those everyday reps like Taveras does. He’s older, he’s less raw, he’s pretty close to being the player he’s going to be. If Adams gets one or two starts a week, it likely won’t stunt his development. Taveras really needs to be playing every day. 

Also, while it’s frustrating to think about business at this time of year when it’s much more fun to talk baseball, there’s a very real business component with Taveras. You’d really rather make sure you have team control for his age-27 season than have all of his age-21 season.

Finally, one other factor: Adams’ future as an everyday player almost certainly is not in St. Louis. My guess is there’s a lot to be said for trading him, getting value for a valuable asset and perhaps upgrading the club at another area of need. If you’re going to do that, perhaps you want to get him big league at-bats to show what he can do.

I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, and it’s possible that Taveras could go Pujols and be so spectacular they just can’t keep him off. It’s possible they’re both on. It’s possible they’re both at Memphis. I just think it’s not as simple as “Taveras ON” vs “Taveras OFF,” and one reason for that is Adams.

Today’s game in a nutshell: The Cardinals hit five home runs, including big, impressive shots from Adams, Taveras, and Matt Holliday, as they cruised to a 7-2 win. Jake Westbrook was solid, though he got only one groundball out in three innings.

Quote of the day: “If you can hit, you can hit.” — Matheny on Adams and the likelihood that he would be asked to pinch-hit if he’s on the roster

Player of the day: Taveras, who also doubled to go along with his homer. Kid can rake.

Miles driven: 6 today, 1037 for the trip

Miles run: 3 today, 19 1/2 on the trpi

Starbucks visits: 1 today, 10 for the trip

Up next: Yet another day on Planet Jupiter, this time covering for my friend and teammate Bryan Hoch as the Yankees come to town. I’ll actually be on Yanks duty each of the next two days, as they play the Cardinals Thursday and the Marlins on Friday.

And, finally, the playlist:

Today is the 15th anniversary of “The Big Lebowski,” the movie from which this blog takes its name. So here are five songs from my all-time favorite comedy.

Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, “Just Dropped In”
Bob Dylan, “The Man in Me”
Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”
Gipsy Kings, “Hotel California”
Townes Van Zandt, “Dead Flowers”

-M.

Spring Training, Day 9: The real world intrudes

It’s safe to say that in 12 seasons covering baseball, I’ve never had a day quite like today. It started out normally enough, going to the park around 3:30 like I’ve done for hundreds of games in the past.

Then I got to the press box at Roger Dean Stadium and it was absolutely packed. There were no seats in either row, only at the tables behind the main seating. That was my first indication of what I should have already known — Team Venezuela is a big deal. I did manage to squeeze into a seat, but that question turned out to be an utter afterthought.

Sometime around 5 pm, word came down that Hugo Chavez had died. It was not just a twitter hoax, we soon learned. And suddenly the task of covering the Venezuelan World Baseball Classic team had a bit of a different feel to it.

It was challenging trying to get anywhere as a non-Spanish speaker, but people worked together and helped each other out. I was able to get a few comments (and no-comments) on Chavez — who, of course, was extremely polarizing.

Then the game, and it was entertaining as well. The Venezuelan starting nine is just ridiculously good, but we got a reminder that baseball is weird. Anybody can beat anybody, and the Marlins without Giancarlo Stanton can beat the Venezuelan national team.

Postgame, Luis Sojo spoke a little bit about Chavez and a good bit about baseball. Then Zambrano gave what seemed to be some very heartfelt words about the president. Unfortunately for me, it was in Spanish so I can’t be entirely certain. I asked for, and received, a partial translation. Essentially, Zambrano expressed human sympathy for Chavez and his family, rather than taking any kind of political stand. I wish I had understood more of it.

So, yeah, tomorrow will probably be a little more routine.

The game in a nutshell: Miguel Cabrera was a force, but the Marlins kept coming back. Chris Coghlan had four hits and scored three runs as Miami came back from deficits of 3-0 and 5-3 to win, 6-5.

Quote of the day: “I think for the respect of Venezuela, they have to do something [before] the first game against the Dominicans.” — Carlos Zambrano, on the fact that there was no moment of silence for Chavez before tonight’s game

Player of the day: Coghlan certainly has a case, but for me it’s Cabrera. Four at-bats, four screamers. Two doubles, one of them to the wall. One homer, a mammoth shot to left. And even his out was loud, a liner to center.

Miles driven: 25 today, 1025 on the trip

Miles run: 3 today, 16 1/2 on the trip

Roadside sight of the day: It’s not exactly roadSIDE so much as on the road. In the span of 45 minutes or so driving around today, I saw two Ferraris, two Bentleys and an Aston Martn. And that’s not even counting the player parking lots. Welcome to Palm Beach County.

Starbucks trips: 1 today, 9 for the trip

Up next: I’m in Jupiter again tomorrow, but this time with a little more familiar assignment. I’ll be stepping in for the esteemed Jenifer Langosch on the Cardinals beat when they play the Marlins. Looking forward to occupying my old seat. And also to lunch from Pyros.

Ballpark music note of the day: Oh, dear, RDS, you can do better than you did tonight. BEPs, Pitbull, Sandstorm, I know y’all have some good tunes. Heck, last year you welcomed me with some New Order. Please?

And, finally, the playlist:

We reach the top. And for me, these five albums really did stand out above all the rest. No. 1 was an easy, easy call. And really, the rest of the top-5 came together pretty easily. See the past 4 entries for an explanation of what’s going on here, if it’s not clear.

The second half of Erin’s top-10:

Craig Finn, “No Future” (Clear Heart, Full Eyes)
Big Sean/Jay-Z/Kanye West, “Clique” (GOOD Music–Cruel Summer)
Santigold, “Keepers” (Master of My Make-Believe)
Japandroids, “The House That Heaven Built” (Celebration Rock)
Metric, “Breathing Underwater” (Synthetica)

And my top-5:

Justin Townes Earle, “Unfortunately Anna” (Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now, No. 5)
Cloud Nothings, “Fall In” (Attack On Memory, No. 4)
Bruce Springsteen, “Rocky Ground” (Wrecking Ball, No. 3)
Patterson Hood, “(untold pretties)” (Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance, No. 2)
Japandroids, “Younger Us” (Celebration Rock, No. 1)

FWIW, “(untold pretties)” and “Younger Us” may also be my two favorite songs of the year, not just my favorite songs from my two favorite albums. Great stuff.

-M.

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