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.