Thursday, May 10, 2012

MOVIE RANT: Moneyball

Moneyball was a hit. It made a killing at the box office, it garnered an Oscar nomination, and most importantly, it restored some much needed dignity to the baseball movie genre. After being subjected to out-of-touch flops like Summer Catch and The Scout, Moneyball was a breath of fresh air for baseball fans, and personally, I loved it.

With regard to baseball, the film was authentic. I deem myself a stickler for attention to detail and Moneyball passed the test with honors. Everything was just right, from the baseball lingo to the elephant logo-ed BP hats - Brad Pitt even packed a few dips for good measure. The film reeked of baseball accuracy - for once, my nit-picking skills sat idle and I was able to simply enjoy the show.

As a movie itself, I found it entertaining from beginning to end. The writing was witty, the acting was spot on, and the story was balanced in a way that enabled both baseball fans and those foreign to the game to follow and enjoy. The film also shed light on the front office side of baseball, a perspective never truly featured or explored in the past (sorry Little Big League).

The movie, anchored by the chemistry and banter of Pitt and Hill, was an all-around success - but really, what fun is that? Here are some thoughts that went through my head while watching Hollywood's latest take on baseball.

World's sexiest GM: Seriously, how cool do you think Billy Beane tried to play it off when he found out Brad Pitt was playing him? Probably acted all nonchalant like he didn't even know who he was: Brad Pi...Pitt? Oh yeah, I think I know that name. He was voted World's Sexiest Man in 1995 and 2000 or something, wasn't he? Yeah, I guess he'll do - I mean whoever you guys think best captures my essence, I'm good with.

Perfect role in jeopardy: I was legitimately upset that Philip Seymour Hoffman played Art Howe in this movie because I have been saying for years that he would kill it as his voice twin, Buck Showalter. With the blond hair he's already a spitting image of him, but the voice similarity puts it over the top, it's uncanny. If having already played a manager in a baseball movie prevents PSH from taking a future role as Buck I will be devastated.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

SMALLS TALK: Cole Hamels does the unthinkable!

I still can't believe it. Premeditated, unwarranted, just disgusting. For those of you who haven't heard, Cole Hamels recently launched a harpoon from the pitcher's mound at rookie sensation Bryce Harper, piercing the slugger's right shoulder and placing him on the DL indefinitely. The wound will likely keep Harper out for the rest of the season and sources are saying his future in baseball may be in jeopardy.

In light of the incident, Hamels has been reviled by both local and national media for such a reckless act of cowardice, and rightfully so - there is no place for such violence in Major League Baseb...

Wait, what? You're saying Hamels just hit Harper with a pitch? Well still, it was probably gruesome. You heard what he said, there was clear intent - where'd he hit him, in the head? See, that's what I thou- wait, in the back??? Hm - but I mean, it knocked him out of the game, right? I'm sure he was real banged up, no way he stayed in the game and felt healthy enough to steal home just minutes later, that obviously goes without saying.

Having worn out my use of the sarcasm font, I'll cut to the chase: the entire Hamels-Hits-Harper situation has been blown way out of proportion. It's baseball - pitchers occasionally throw at batters, it's part of the game. Hamels, for whatever reason, wanted to knock the 19-year old off his high horse. Perhaps he was annoyed with the praise and attention the young player has attracted since his call-up, or maybe he took offense to Harper's blowing a celebratory kiss at an opposing pitcher after a home run last summer - whatever it was, he decided to send a message, and that message was delivered right between the 3 and the 4 on Harper's back, right where any coach tells his pitcher to hit a guy. No intent to injure, nothing scary - simply put, and I quote Hamels: "Welcome to the Big Leagues."

Thursday, April 26, 2012

SMALLS TALK: Foul Ball Etiquette

Fans go nuts over foul balls. It's how it's always been and it's how it will always be. Even if you're hanging on the game's every pitch, you can't help but get mesmerized by a foul ball's mystique. With each ball that goes up into the seats, we wonder which fan will defy the 1 in 30,000 odds and win the Foul Ball Sweepstakes. The errant hit has a power over fans, and while we may not know where it's going or who will catch it, we do know that the play will result in at least one of the following: 1) A priceless souvenir... 2) An inconsolable child... 3) A fistfight... 4) A SportsCenter Top Play... 5) A SportsCenter NOT Top Play... 6) A trip to the hospital... or last, and most definitely least: 7) Adults acting like schoolgirls.

Balls hit out of play are a real life piece of the game that suddenly become available to the fans. In the matter of seconds, a baseball went from a Big League pitcher's hand to a Big Leaguer's bat, and now it's finally come to rest, in your hands. You can't help but feel a connection - you were part of a play with major league ballplayers. It actually is pretty cool. 

But some fans simply cannot handle the foul ball experience. The instant a ball enters the crowd, they lose their minds. They want that ball - they need that ball. It's not even a ball anymore - it's a Honus Wagner rookie card, a Wonka golden ticket, and the final Horcrux all rolled into one. The survival of mankind relies on their tracking down this prize - it's the reason they were put on God's green earth. And so, like a crackhead desperate for a fix, they hunt it down, refusing to be denied and terrorizing rows of helpless fans in the process.

But fortunately, in the minds of other - dare I optimistically say "most"? - fans, foul balls are simply a fun side effect of a baseball game. These fans are at the ballpark to enjoy nine innings of America's Pastime - if a foul ball comes their way, sure they'll go for it, but you won't find them rolling around on the ground or pulling another fan's hair for the souvenir. To these more sane fans, the foul ball itself dictates who will take it home. They respect the role that luck and chance play in the foul ball experience, as well as the skill and courage that go along with actually catching it. And if it bounces off the chosen fan's hands, it simply changes direction and presents another opportunity to a different fan. As for those balls that find their way under a seat? If it's under you, reach down and grab it. No diving. No pig-piling.

Friday, April 13, 2012

SMALLS TALK: The One Ear Flap Helmet

Nothing says Big Leagues like a one ear flap helmet. It's unmistakable. Turn on the TV and see one of these babies, you know you're watching the world's very best. Its unusual lop-sided style is revered by all who play the game, not so much for its looks but its exclusivity. It's the helmet that my generation saw on the heads of our favorite players growing up, and it's the helmet that every young ballplayer dreams of some day wearing.

If I were to make it to the Big Leagues tomorrow, priority number one would be getting myself a one ear flap helmet - I firmly believe that's the first step to being taken seriously as a Major League hitter. When a guy steps to the plate wearing a normal double ear flap helmet, what half the crowd sees is an at-bat long window to run to the bathroom or grab a hot dog. Nothing is expected from Mr. Double Ear Flap - he doesn't wear a Big League helmet, why should fans give him Big League attention?

It's Little League stuff. I compare the Big Leaguer who wears a double ear flap to the college player who still wears his hat underneath his helmet. It doesn't mean they're not a good player, but until they look the part, they'll never be fully treated as one. It sounds ridiculously superficial - mainly because it is - but it's true. The one ear-flap helmet is a privilege, something that represents more than just head protection. It's the helmet reserved for the best. Not in the Majors? Sorry, nothing we can do - Big Leaguers only. It's an honor. Ahh, what it must feel like to track a fastball while the wind tickles my liberated left ear.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

SMALLS TALK: O's lose to college team - big deal?

It's not out of the ordinary for a Big League team to face college competition at some point during Spring Training. It's a tradition that several clubs have honored for years as both a showcase for fans and a special treat for the college kids. It is out of the ordinary, however, for a Big League team to lose to college competition. Enter the Baltimore Orioles.

The O's lost 2-1 in a charity game against Miami Florida Florida State State College of Florida on Tuesday and, just as you'd expect, a media frenzy ensued, resulting in two very different spins on the game. First came the more obvious take: your classic doomsday predictions of an 0-162 season. The O's couldn't beat Little Leaguers, nevermind a college team! Or my favorite: Playing the Orioles will kill SCF's RPI! There were also plenty who chose to downplay the significance of the event. After all, it was a charity game, and the bulk of the Baltimore starting lineup was out of the game by the 5th inning. Who cares? They probably just wanted to get their work in and get out of there.

It's a classic "story vs. non-story" debate, and having heard both spins, I was prepared to form my opinion on the matter. But then another factor was thrown into the mix that changed everything: since SCF is already into their season and wanted to save some pitching, there were a few innings that featured Orioles pitchers and catchers playing for the college team. And just like that, what had become such a hot and lively debate got flipped on its head. In my mind, the Oriole vs. Oriole matchups negate the entire story - case dismissed. 

But just for fun, let's say the teams played straight up. Now is it a story?

At this point in the Spring? Absolutely. I've played the game, I know the difference in competition, and while baseball is the only sport that offers a college team a realistic chance to beat a professional team, I believe the Major League club should win this game 99 times out of 100. The only exception would be a lights out pitching performance by the college squad's ace (sometimes you just can't beat good pitching). But that'd only be if the game actually meant something and the college team was pitching their stud, playing to win. In today's world of Spring Training exhibition games, the MLB club should win every time.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

SMALLS TALK: Terry Francona on Baseball Tonight

Kurkjian can't even watch.

I love Terry Francona. I think he's a great manager and an even better guy.  I agree that it was time for him to part ways with the Red Sox, but his managerial career at Fenway will be argued as the best of all-time for years to come. As a broadcaster, however...

To put it delicately: the guy needs work. Alright forget delicate - I'd rather watch an NIT play-in game than listen to Tito interact with the rest of the Baseball Tonight crew.

Tito displayed his "gee, gosh" fumbling way of speaking and his funny voice over the countless interviews of his career, and the baseball world ate it up. What a down to earth guy... A real player's manager!... I'd love to play for a guy like that! ... And yes, that's all great and true, but not once did I hear a Tito presser and think: "Professional broadcasting, here he comes!"

Again, I like Francona, I really do, but it's downright painful to listen to him sometimes. He just feels so out of place, the second-hand embarrassment can get unbearable. He's that uncomfortable even-my-colleagues-know-I-stink level of bad. Every time he speaks, Karl Ravech's face reads, "Is this guy frickin kidding me? Do we pay him?" And the best part is, he doesn't even try to hide it.

Now maybe I'm being a little rough on Tito. I realize he's new to this gig, and the regular season has not yet even begun, but at this point I honestly expect more. This is his job now, after all. This is his profession - shouldn't he have had to display some qualifications before getting hired? (Aside from achieving success as a manager and being a good guy, of course.) But then again, what are Shannon Sharpe's broadcasting credentials - a Windsor tie knot the size of a New York pizza slice?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

SMALLS TALK: The Curtain Call

Just when you think a crowd can't get any more hopped up, it happens. The hero that just brought the stadium to its feet pokes his head out of the dugout, jumps up on the top step, and offers a tip of the cap to the home town fans. And just like that, the steady stadium cheers erupt into an even louder collective roar.

It's a perfect baseball moment. In a game of countless traditions, the curtain call has all the ingredients needed to leave everyone in attendance feeling good about themselves, their team, and most importantly, the state of our national pastime. It's a beautiful thing, really. 

A huge play - usually, but not always, a home run - just took place: a giant momentum swing that changed the entire landscape of the game. The fans are going nuts, and they're not stopping until their appreciation gets acknowledged. So they cheer. And they cheer. And they cheer some more. And just when you think the noise is finally about to die down, here comes our man.

For a player, it's the biggest thrill imaginable. After getting bombarded with dugout high-fives, hugs, and atta boy's, the hero of the moment places his batting helmet back in the rack and slowly takes off his batting gloves, taking in the moment and yucking it up with teammates as the crowd shakes the stadium walls around him. The fans want another peek at their star - but they'll have to wait. At least for a moment.

As a player, you can never assume the curtain call. The call is a privilege - the crowd determines your fate. So while the crowd waits, the player does the same. He's making small talk, exchanging one-liners, detailing his big play for inquiring teammates - but really, he's gauging the crowd. How loud are they? How long have they been cheering? Do they seem stubborn in their volume level or are they fading?

Monday, March 26, 2012

DUGOUT LINGO: "Cage-Killer"

Sometimes, you just can't get out of the cage. We've all been there - you hit ball after ball after ball up into the netting above you. You try to comfort yourself - How far up is this thing today? - as though the cage's location on the field was robbing you of no-doubt homers. You do your best to play it cool, but with each pop-up, a little panic sets in and finding your way out of the turtle seems more and more impossible. 

You can't get on top of the ball for the life of you - you're calling for the Driver but somehow the Sand Wedge keeps finding its way into your hands. It's a horrible feeling, and you know it's bad when comfort comes in the form of a dribbling ground ball. I got out! But hey, it happens.

Everyone's been guilty of testing the strength of the cage's netting at some point. There's a little cage-killer in all of us, and even the greats aren't immune - just ask Brickma. 


Thursday, March 8, 2012

SMALLS TALK: Coolest park to hit a home run?

There is no feeling in the world like hitting a home run. I enjoy goals, I've celebrated touchdowns, I love tracking a birdie putt, and I even get a rise out of a drained three-pointer, but nothing has ever compared to the sensation of sending one over the fence. The pure pop of the bat, the trajectory of the backspinning ball, the half-hearted pursuit by the outfielder, the roar of the crowd - it's a magical moment, and it could happen on any pitch.

A home run has the ability to lift confidence levels to amazing new heights. During your at-bat, you achieved the best possible outcome in the history of baseball - a result Ty Cobb could not top and Babe Ruth could only hope to match - so enjoy it. The victory lap around the bases, the cheers, the high-fives - in this moment, all eyes are on the home run hero - you are the show.

Home runs are always special, but there are some ballparks that present certain circumstances that make leaving the yard even cooler.

Historic Fences: Watching the left-fielder look directly up into the sky as your ball sails over Fenway Park's 37-foot Green Monster is an accomplishment that links you to some of the game's biggest names who have maneuvered their way past the monster's celebrated grasp over the past century. An equally famous wall can be found on the North side of Chicago. The only brick wall still in MLB circulation, outfielders have nothing but a layer of Wrigley Field's legendary ivy to cushion the blow of a head-on collision. Hitting a big fly at either of these ballparks will have you feeling at one with baseball's timeless tradition. 

Favorite Landing Spots: A splash is always fun. Whether it's Tropicana Field's rays tank or Chase Field's outfield jacuzzi, the chances of directly hitting these targets are remarkably low which makes these fan-friendly occurrences even more entertaining. Yankee Stadium's Monument Park is another great landing zone, connecting Yankee greats, past and present, through the magic of the long ball - after all, there's no greater way to pay tribute to a legend than by peppering his statue with homers.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

TOP 5: Questions Heading into the 2012 Season

Time to take baseball's biggest questions to my Crystal Ball.

There was no shortage of exciting moves this MLB off-season - rosters were filled with big names, organizations underwent major makeovers, and countless storylines were set for the 2012 season. Each team represents a series of plots that will unfold over the course of the next eight months - here are my TOP 5 questions heading into the season.

Can Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera co-exist in the field?

Serious question: the Tigers know they're in the American League, correct? I understand that neither of these sluggers wants the unappealing title of "Designated Hitter," but I have a hard time believing there aren't going to be some costly errors made at the corners of the Tiger infield this season. This isn't Gold Glove Kevin Youkilis moving to third to make way for Gold Glove Adrian Gonzalez - you may be able to hide one of these large bodies at first base, but both in the same infield may be trouble.

Everyone's happy with the arrangement now, but what happens when they hit that first defensive skid and the media starts pointing fingers? May get mighty awkward around that post-game spread.

Who will win the AL West?

The Texas Rangers have been the best team in the American League for the past two years, and honestly they may have gotten even better this off-season - so how is it possible that they may not even win their division? Well the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California baseball team - did I get that right? - were also busy this winter, adding two of baseball's biggest signings to their veteran-laden roster.

Pujols was obviously a huge sign - he will likely go down as one of the best to ever play the game (please be clean...) - but I'm more interested in the addition of C.J. Wilson as a number 3 (!) starter, cementing the Angels' rotation as the strongest in baseball, in my opinion. C.J.'s history in Arlington and the mystery that is Yu Darvish only adds to the drama within this rivalry, which could present an exciting race all the way through September. Oakland and Seattle are both a few years away from competing, but even they have to be excited about all the great baseball games they get to DVR this season.

Will Bryce Harper make his Big League debut this season?

Like him or hate him - if he plays, we'll watch. Nicknamed the "Chosen One" by Sports Illustrated and labeled The Lebron of Baseball, it's easy to forget that Bryce Harper is only 19 years old. Although it may appear he has a lot of growing up to do, none of us passing judgment have had to handle a spotlight with even a fraction of the glow as the one Harper has been under since his sophomore year of high school. He must keep his cool while seemingly the entire baseball community wishes him to fail - while, of course, playing a game of failure.

While sometimes it certainly seems that Bryce may only be looking out for Bryce, can we really blame him? I can't speak to his behavior as a teammate, but to his credit he appears to be great with fans and has managed to produce strong numbers on the field amidst the media storm that has been his career. And don't look for that attention to go away anytime soon - if the number one pick from the 2010 Draft makes it to the Bigs this year, the entire baseball world will be watching.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

SMALLS TALK: Would you want Manny on your team?

1 + 1 = the number of times I've been busted for PED's!

I loved Manny. His playful personality, his smooth right-handed stroke, his consistent production - I, along with countless others, considered him one of the best hitters to ever play the game - and there was a bonus: in addition to home runs and RBI's, this guy pumped out sound bytes that had TV producers drooling. I mean, what was more hilarious than the Manny being Manny series? He was the zany clubhouse clown in addition to being one of the league's most feared hitters. Whether or not you liked him, you couldn't deny that he was entertaining to watch, both on and off the field.

But then, something happened. At some point between his unceremonious departure from Boston, his first 50-game suspension, his mediocrity in Chicago, and his sudden abandonment of Tampa Bay, Manny became a villain. His immature ways that had always passed as wacky were now scorned as irresponsible and idiotic. His cluelessness that had once made him so lovable had become a blatant disrespect of the game. He had always been quirky, but it was no longer a happy-go-lucky quirky - he had gone bad.

Manny's numbers are now tainted by two failed drug tests. His reputation is in shambles, and his career, over. Until now. Now he wants back in, and up until two days ago, no teams were biting.

There are some guys you simply stay away from. They could have all the talent in the world, but they don't possess the qualities needed to help a team more than they hurt it. Look at Barry Bonds - has he even retired yet? He had been tentative to use the "R" word after playing his last game in 2007, adamant that he was still a free agent "waiting for a call." Well the problem was: no one was calling. The phone wasn't ringing for Jose Canseco either, who's been eager to get back to the Big Leagues since he last played in 2001. Some guys just aren't worth the risk.

Sadly, I now put Manny in that category. Aside from the two steroid-related suspensions, I'm most turned off by the way he completely abandoned ship in Tampa Bay. After receiving news of a second failed drug test, he fled the city without notifying anyone in the organization of his sudden retirement. Teammates that were counting on him to produce, a manager looking to him for leadership, and an organization that took a chance on him - all left in the rear view, left to deal with a Manny media storm before they even knew what had happened.

So if I were a GM today, I wouldn't touch Manny with a ten-foot stick. Recently he has proven to be more trouble than he is worth. Can he still hit? You bet he can. But not like he used to. And given his unreliability and erratic behavior, I'm not willing to take that risk just for a few fleeting Vintage Manny home runs.

But maybe Oakland hit it just right. A minor league deal, paying just over the league minimum? Seems like a small price to pay for a player that was once widely considered a first ballot Hall of Famer. But then there's the 50-game suspension. And the media distractions. And the everyday uncertainty of just what he'll bring to the table. What appears to be a deal that could only have upside still looks too risky to me. I can deal with mistakes. I'm all for second chances. But sadly, I believe Manny Ramirez has overstayed his welcome in Major League Baseball.

Though he did produce some memorable moments.

College Baseball's Opening Day
On-Field Composure
When did "Can I have your autograph" turn into "Give me a ball"?
Baseball Needs a 24/7 Show
Top 10 Things to Do in the Dugout During a Day Off
The Spit Hit
Being Friends with Pitchers
The Yankee Core
Opening Day
You Play Right Field?
It's Not Always Sunny in Arizona
Tee Work
Helmet for Pitchers?
Approaching Spring Training
Top 5 Things I Won't Miss About My Local Gym
Getting New Equipment
Last Day at Work
My Bat of Choice
The Superstitions and Quirks of a Ballplayer
The Art of the Autograph
Greensboro's 'Bat Dogs'
Tim Kurkjian is a Man Among Boys
Baseball Movie All-Star Game: Starting Lineups
Walk-Out Music
Pre-Draft Medical Questionnaires
The Ryan Howard Namesake
The Magic of the Rally
Jeter and A-Rod, How Times Have Changed
Summer Leagues - Cape Still Cream of the Crop?
SportsCenter Commercials are Better Than Most Shows
Schilling's Bloody Sock
Red Sox Nation Goes Crazy, JD Drew Can't Be Bothered
Minor League Hats are the Way to Go
Who Has the Best Uniforms in College Baseball?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

MOVIE RANT: A League of their Own

I don't care who you are, A League of their Own is a classic. That's a fact. You can dispute it all you want - go ahead, claim it's a "girl movie"; tell me it's too lovey dovey; argue that Madonna playing baseball discredits the entire thing - I'm not budging. Without a doubt, A League of their Own is one of the best baseball movies out there, and sits securely among my personal favorites.

First off, any movie that features Jon Lovitz in perfectly small doses is off to a great start. Then there's Geena Davis, who managed to pull off this dirty, slugging, tom-boy elegance that the male race never before even knew existed (nor that they liked it so much). Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell aren't exactly my two favorite people on the planet, but they both nailed their supporting roles, producing a Pinky-and-the-Brain type of dynamic that backboned the humor in most of the scenes. And whoever bit the bullet and played Marla Hooch, thank you for countless laughs.

There was also this guy named Tom Hanks. No one could have brought the miserable yet hilarious Jimmy Dugan to life like this Academy Award winner. One of the best characters in any baseball movie, he produced too many great lines to list them all. There is one that has managed to stand out, however.

I'm pretty confident I know more lines from A League of their Own than I've memorized from Die Hard, Scarface, The Godfather, Shawshank, and Braveheart combined - and I've got no problem admitting that. An innovative (and true) storyline, a captivating set of characters, comedy at every turn, and a baseball backdrop - it's my kind of movie.

But there is one thing that has always bothered me. Now whether Dottie dropped the ball on purpose in the final play, we may never know - we tend to think she did mainly because she owned Kit in every aspect of life and could make that play with her eyes closed, but we will never be certain. That is not my concern, however.

What rubs me the wrong way is that to this day, February 21, 2012, Kit still hasn't touched home plate. She comes racing in like a wrecking ball, slams into Dottie, and goes flying through the air, never once coming into contact with the plate, thus, never scoring the championship-winning run. Could you imagine how frustrated Dottie would be if the ump made the right call? "God Kit, I put it on a platter for you and you still manage to mess it up!" Still can't believe Jimmy Dugan didn't argue that one.


Friday, February 17, 2012

SMALLS TALK: College Baseball's Opening Day

Today, every team in the country takes the first step in their journey to Omaha. 

It doesn’t get much better than college baseball. The camaraderie, the pressure, the fans, the passion – my four years in college were the most fun I’ve ever had on a baseball field. From mid-February to (hopefully) late June, you travel the country, representing your school and playing baseball with your friends – and the best part is: every game matters.
That’s the beauty of college ball – there are no guarantees; you live and die with every pitch. The season isn’t long enough for you to take your lumps and hope the cream will eventually rise to the top. You let a losing streak or a slump go on for too long, it may cost you your season. Wins become more valuable, losses more costly. You have 56-games to script your resume and prove to the committee that your team deserves a shot at the NCAA tournament more than the other 300 teams. And that journey begins today.
Today, teams all over the country are taking that first step toward their ultimate goal – everything they’ve been working all Fall and Winter for is finally here. The early mornings, the late nights, the workouts, the sprints – today, it’s all worth it.
In college, your team is your family. Unlike Minor League Baseball, your roster is set – there’s no revolving door; you work with the guys you have. You pull for one another, you play for one another – the team’s success is all that matters.
Today, everyone has a chance. Every team controls their own destiny, there’s optimism in every dugout. Enjoy it. Take it all in – the game, the fans, the college atmosphere, your buddies playing beside you – it doesn’t get much better than this.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Stay hot, Jose.

Ahh, baseball sarcasm at its finest. Whenever you are told by a teammate to "stay hot," there is a 100% chance you just embarrassed yourself. This term has become a staple in clubhouses and dugouts because, well, baseball players fail - a lot.

"Stay hot" can be used after a variety of mistakes and failures, but it is truly at its best when applied after a string of mishaps. The ump turning in a series of bad calls, the opposing third baseman committing his second error of the inning, a teammate getting rejected by three straight girls at the bar - it's only right to commemorate their shortcomings with a snarky comment. Stay hot, Blue. Stay hot, Miggy. Stay hot, Youk.

Wow - stay hot, Andruw.

"By You"
"Pick Him Up"

Monday, February 13, 2012

MiLB LIFE: Long Distance Relationships

"Heading into the clubhouse now, I'll call you after the game." 140 times.

Relationships are never easy. In addition to the obvious time commitment, they require compromise, trust, patience, and endless support - and that's just for normal relationships. For romances involving a minor league ballplayer, multiply all that by about 100.

The baseball lifestyle is not exactly the most conducive for budding romances. First off, there's the distance. Sure there are a few rare instances when the team's location is conveniently close to a girlfriend's residence - and, of course, some players acquire local gal pals throughout the season - but assuming you have a girlfriend "back home," distance is a major issue. Long-distance relationships are nothing new, however, and they are far from impossible - people all over the world deal with this scenario on a daily basis and find a way to make it work. The key is to be flexible and compromise.

Unfortunately for a ballplayer, flexibility and the ability to compromise are perks we're not privileged to have. Over the course of the season, we'll play 140 games over the span of approximately 150 days. Throw in a month of spring training and that adds up to six whole months on the road away from your home, your family, and your sweetheart.

While away, you'll surely miss out on countless big events: birthdays, holidays, family parties, reunions - a teammate of mine was even forced to skip his best friend's wedding, and yep, you guessed it, he was supposed to be best man. It's a cruel business. You're only useful to the organization if you are there in the flesh helping the ball club. For six months, your life is baseball.

And while you're off blistering your hands with your daily 200 swings, what about your poor girlfriend back home? Unfortunately for her, the burden of keeping your relationship together falls squarely on her shoulders. Ultimately, her ability to handle the distance will determine whether this partnership will sink or swim.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

SMALLS TALK: On-Field Composure

We get it - you're mad. You struck out in a big spot, blew a lead, didn't drive the run in, served up a walk-off, went 0 for 5, got pulled in the second inning, or achieved any number of on-field failures - who wouldn't be mad? Ohh, but you're throwing equipment... you must be really mad.

Give me a break. For us hitters, baseball is a game of failure - more often than not, you're not going to get the job done. It's just a fact of the game, something that every player needs to acknowledge and overcome. It's a frustrating sport, one that ranges from incredibly easy to nearly impossible in the span of an at-bat. A series of one-on-one matchups, the game can never be mastered - perfection is unattainable.

So why do guys insist on making a spectacle of themselves when something goes wrong? I understand people deal with failure and anger in all types of ways, but there are few things that bother me more than an on-field meltdown. Sure, sometimes they're fun to watch, but nothing makes my blood boil like a teammate freaking out in the dugout. Breaking bats, throwing gloves, flipping coolers, breaking lights - you name it, I've seen it, and each time I roll my eyes and think to myself, "grow the f*** up."

Don't get me wrong, I've been there - been in slumps you wouldn't believe, made costly errors, struck out with the tying run on third - I've failed with the best of them. But you know who was to blame for all those things? Me. They were my fault - I let the team down. I've felt upset, angry, and hopeless on the baseball field more times than I care to remember, but I would never let my problems go public. My teammates don't need to see me breaking the bat rack to know I care, just like I don't need to see my starting pitcher chuck his glove at the Gatorade cooler to know he's upset about only going 1 1/3 innings.

We all care - we wouldn't play if we didn't. It's an infuriating game, you're allowed to be angry, but you can't let the game break you - because if you let it, it will. I have never in my life seen a guy freak out early in a game then turn around and do anything productive in the following innings. A meltdown might as well be a giant white flag, waving from the dugout informing the other team that you are officially checked out mentally. They no longer have to worry about you - you're already beat. The game of baseball has worn you down - your day is done.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

PLAYER MOLD: The Project

Voted college baseball's Player of the Year, Nebraska's Alex Gordon was a sure thing...

These guys can be found at all levels of competitive baseball. Their talent is undeniable - they have tools that every other guy in that dugout could only dream of. Some guys may have blazing speed, a couple have light tower power, and a few can throw a baseball harder than you thought humanly possible. So, why aren't these guys any good?

Sure these guys have talent, but they're not quality baseball players - not yet, at least. They have all the ingredients to be a perennial All-Star, but something's off. Whether it's a better understanding of the game, an adjustment to a higher level, or simply learning how to deal with failure, there is a change that needs to be made - and until they overcome this obstacle, they will always remain a project.  

In college, a project is that top recruit that has a tough time making the jump from high school to college ball. He comes to campus highly touted, and before he's even laced up his fall-ball spikes, the head coach has him penciled into February's opening day lineup. But as the Fall progresses, he doesn't deliver. He has trouble making the adjustment to better competition - he looks overmatched. What's going on? This was our top recruit, he's a great player - what's wrong with him?

It is at this moment when the special attention kicks in. Suddenly, there's personal BP with the hitting coach before and after practice; personal bullpen sessions with the pitching coach dissecting every release; one-on-one filming sessions, private meetings, practice plans based around this individual player's needs - the coaching staff goes into full panic mode and the project has become the program's main focus.

The coaches recruited this kid to be an immediate impact player. When they saw him play in high school, their expert analysis indicated he would be ready - there's no way they could be wrong, right? I mean, scouting is part of their job, they're professionals - they couldn't have messed this one up. And just like that, it's all about them. This kid will represent their ability to analyze talent for years to come. Their reputations and egos are on the line, and they will do everything in their power to make sure this recruit becomes the great player they projected him to be.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

IT'S ON! -- More Hilarious Spill: Lasorda vs. Zimmer

This is a debate that's been going on in my head for almost a decade. There are two classic spills in recent baseball history that will forever serve as the benchmark for on-field hilarity - but which is better?

The Lasorda back somersault and the Zimmer bull rush are just about as good as it gets when it comes to unexpected ball-game entertainment - both instant classics, every TV network's dream. Now I realize that they are both old news - heck, I think Vlad was wearing an Expos uniform as he hunted down poor Tommy - but even today, if you're able to watch a replay of either without laughing, well then my hat is off to you. 

Both of these men have dedicated their lives to the game of baseball. They have given everything they have as players, coaches, and managers, yet in my mind, these two legendary names will forever be linked by these timeless bloopers - I just can't figure out which one I enjoy more.

First, there's our pal Tommy Lasorda. An honorary manager at the 2001 All-Star Game, Tommy was hanging out in the 3rd base coach's box just minding his own business, taking it all in - great players, fun crowd, beautiful summer night - what could be better? Then, WHACK, Vlad Guerrero hits a foul ball down the right field line. Unfortunately for Lasorda, Vlad's broken bat came flying end over end down the left field line. He was a deer in the head lights with nowhere to go. The scene played out in slow motion. The bat hit him square across the chest and Lasorda transformed into a giant Weeble Wobble, only in this case, the Weeble wobbled and fell down. And then plunged helplessly into a backward somersault. 

After witnessing the most unathletic tumble of all time, everyone in attendance collectively held their breath. Was the 73-year old injured? Lasorda then got up, dusted himself off, and acknowledged to the crowd that he was indeed alright. This, of course, translated into: It's ok to begin laughing hysterically now. I'm not hurt. And so the crowd burst into uproarious laughter, growing more rowdy with each in-stadium replay - and just like that, my personal favorite All-Star Game moment was born.

I am still in awe at how Lasorda managed to fall completely backward. He never tried to shield the impact of the bat, never turned away - just took it square on. I'm entirely confident you could table-top every other person in that stadium and not produce a more hilarious, clumsy fall than the one Tommy put forth. Just a Hall of Famer churning out another Hall of Fame moment.

Monday, January 9, 2012

SMALLS TALK: When did "Can I have your autograph" turn into "Give me a ball"?

Kids these days - they always need more. It's no longer enough for youngsters to head to the ball game and root, root, root for the home team. What fun is that? They need a souvenir - something exclusive, something that separates them from others in attendance, a keepsake that makes them special. After all, it's all about them - isn't it?

At the risk of sounding like a crotchety old-timer reminiscing about the "good ol' days when men were men and the game was pure," I'd like to publicly call out this new generation of baseball fans. Boys and girls: the game you are watching is beautiful. It is timeless, and unites fans around the world who watch with the same passion and energy with which the game is played. The game has stood the test of time - it is bigger than you, than me, than anyone. People will come, Ray. People will most def... shoot, wrong speech - but I think you get my point.

Baseball is a game capable of evoking boyhood joy in fans of all ages. We all fell in love with the game at some point - whether it was while having a catch with Dad, playing wiffle ball until the street lights came on, or riding your bike to the park just to see who was playing - somewhere along the line, we were hooked. In our minds, the game will always be innocent and pure, and while the landscape of the game continues to change, the passion will always remain.

I can't help but wonder if this video game generation has fully grasped the beauty of America's pastime. I'd argue that my passion for the game was cultivated every day on my neighborhood streets. Alongside my three best pals, I'd play from the minute school ended until one of us was called in for dinner, and even then we left begrudgingly. Today, I look around at the bare roads by my house and wonder: "Where did all the kids go?"

Sure, they may be doing other baseball-related activities - maybe playing Nintendo Wii Baseball, or checking the lineups of their Fantasy team - but that's not the same. My friends and I grew up in awe of the game, wondering what would happen next even as we ourselves played. With today's technology, this generation grew up manipulating the game, tailor-fitting it to their own needs and desires. Their interaction with the game itself is distant and detached, and as a result, the whole dynamic of player-fan interaction has changed immensely.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

MiLB LIFE: Pitchers' Batting Practice

Holy smokes! That one landed in the outfield, atta boy Rocker!
Young ballplayers, I urge you to avert your eyes - it's time for Pitcher's BP. Over the next ten minutes, the entire pitching staff will makes its way into the cage one by one to try their luck at blasting one over the wall, and I gotta tell you - it's embarrassing.

After watching these guys compete on the mound night after night - after admiring their fluid motion and the ease with which they're able to fling a ball 90-plus MPH - you can't help but expect more. But no. Nothing. In most cases, you could honestly walk down the street and compile a more capable lineup with the first nine guys you run into. Their ineptitude is actually quite amazing when you think about it - how could a professional athlete look so helpless, so unnatural, while playing his own sport?

The whole experience is what I assume it would be like watching Shaq shoot free throws for ten minutes straight.

You begin by laughing, enjoying the struggle, refusing to believe someone so close to the game could actually achieve such levels of futility. He's just warming up, shakin' off the cobwebs. But after a few minutes pass and no progress has been made, the laughs die down as the entire stadium is engulfed by second-hand embarrassment. Poor guy, has he always been so uncoordinated? You begin to reflect on how miserable a lifetime of baseball must be while possessing such laughable command of a bat, and suddenly, you're sympathy turns to wonderment. This guy has played baseball his whole life - how could he be this bad? He had to have hit at some point right? What, was he getting DH'ed for in tee-ball?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

MOVIE RANT (by Chet Steadman): Bull Durham

I don’t care for Bull Durham.

Maybe I should have waited for my death bed confession but I couldn’t live in secrecy anymore. I rewatched this baseball classic the other night hoping that being a few years wiser, I might have a different opinion. Often we watch ‘classic’ movies when we are too young to fully appreciate them. And on the contrary, we might watch a movie now that we once loved when we were younger and realize it sucks. I didn’t fully appreciate The Big Lebowski when I was twelve and in high school I thought The Boondock Saints was a good movie.

After this recent viewing, my new found appreciation for Bull Durham proved to be wishful thinking. For those of you who might think this is merely a personal vendetta against Kevin Costner for making For Love of the Game, I can assure you it’s not. Field of Dreams is still my favorite baseball movie. Unfortunately, Bull Durham is low on the depth chart for me. It has a few great lines and Costner drops some gold nuggets of baseball wisdom. I’m not trying to say the whole movie is useless. The problem is that all the baseball aspects of this movie are totally unrealistic for what is supposed to be one of, if not the greatest baseball/sports movies ever. Yes, Major League is terribly unrealistic but it is for the means of comedy. Bull Durham was written by a former minor league player and I’m disappointed that it didn’t draw more from the real lives of ballplayers.

Here are some issues for me:

Tim Robbins is a 30 year old ‘young’ sensation who gets promoted from A-ball to the Big Leagues.

Nuke is the only pitcher on the team apparently.

Crash is the only hitter.

Players don't automatically hit homeruns because they know what pitch is coming.

Crash hits his record breaking homerun with a Wilson bat. Really?

Crash talking about his 21 days in the Bigs is one of the cheesiest scenes ever.

Susan Sarandon isn’t good looking.

Crash states that he believes Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone (for those of you who have seen JFK.)

Like For Love of the Game and Summer Catch, Bull Durham is a love story with baseball as a plot tool. Nothing about this movie actually speaks to the true culture of the game. The minor league life has great stories to tell (see Sugar). So to end this rant, I’ll say it’s not a bad movie. I actually think it’s a very good movie. But it isn’t a good baseball movie.

(long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last 3 days...?)

*Who is Chet Steadman?