Wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2008!
2007 was certainly an eventful year, both in baseball and in my own life, and 2008 looks like it will certainly not be a let-down.
I could recount everything that happened to me in 2007, but I'll leave it is as this: If you asked me on 31 December 2006 what I'd be doing on 31 December 2007, I can guarantee you the answer would not have been 'updating my NY Yankees blog.'
It's amazing how some years can utterly change your life...
So here's to a happy, healthy New Year and what say 27 for 08?
(If you are out celebrating tonight, please use a driver or spend the night.)
Monday, December 31, 2007
Wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2008!
Saturday, December 29, 2007
As always, (c) Rebecca Glass, all international copyright laws apply. Please protect intellectual property rights.
The Season, Part 12
#21, Terry Jones, first baseman
More than a month into the season, it’s still an odd, chilling experience to hear the Hope City fans chanting his name every time they come to the Stadium, every time Terry has an at bat. They all know it’s his last season, they all know that he would have never, ever considered playing anywhere else, they all know he very nearly didn’t make it.
He had very nearly chosen to pursue a career in social work, like his cousin of the same age, but a call from Charlie Haus changed his life. It was a bit odd, how quickly it had happened: Terry had played first base for his high school team. He was far from the best on his team offensively, but on defense there was no comparison. Charlie and Brendan Haus had come to a game at the school of Terry’s team’s biggest rival, to watch Brendan’s own son, Matthew. In the seventh inning of the game, with the score tied, Matthew hit a line drive that should have gone for an easy double, but Terry leapt off his feet and dove to his left, as far as he could reach, and not only caught the ball before it hit the ground, but doubled off the runner at first as well. While Brendan hadn’t been paying too much attention, Charlie was transfixed, so he came to Terry’s next game as well, missing the Spartans’ game to do so.
The next game, Terry had one of the best games of his high school career—two home runs and a double, and the same defense he had the previous day. It was all Charlie had needed to see; that evening Terry got the phone call. Come to Florida over the All Star break and we’ll give you a try out with the Spartans. It took a face-to-face meeting for Terry to realize it wasn’t a scam, but even still, it wasn’t until Pete had yelled at him for taking too long in the shower his rookie year that Terry realized that he was living a dream.
Terry is leading off second. There is no one out in the bottom of the fifth, with the Spartans leading Seattle by a score of 2-0. It is, in Terry’s mind, a sloppy day. The game started after an hour-long rain delay, there is mud everywhere, and the sky is overcast. It’s chilly, even for mid-May, with temperatures barely hitting the mid-fifties. It’s not like Washington, where it was cold enough to snow, but this weather, Terry thinks, might be just more miserable. The fans certainly know it—the damp, wet, cold makes them shiver without necessarily being cold. Winter coats are too heavy, but spring jackets are too light. The seats of the Stadium are damp, and the empty peanut shells left on the ground turn into mulch. Games like these, Terry’s told more than once, are the ones that will let you know if you belong. If you’ve got enough grit to last all nine innings, you belong in a Spartans uniform. If not, you belong in the stands. There are men, boys becoming men, and then everyone else.
Richie is at bat, with William, today’s pitcher, to follow. Even with no one out and Leo on first, it’s not a comfortable position. Richie hasn’t hit well for a long while, and, well, a pitcher is a pitcher. Pitchers are, perhaps, not quite an automatic out…but William is pretty close to it. Terry’s dilemma is simple: if he steals third, which he’s pretty sure he can do against Seattle’s pitcher, Vic Gates, he’ll be breaking a cardinal unwritten rule of baseball. You don’t attempt to steal third base with none out or two out, because the potential loss if you are caught is not worth the steal. If Terry doesn’t steal, however, it’s a distinct possibility that Richie hits into a double play, and then with William up next, the inning is almost as good as done. Terry’s been playing too long and too well to be looking at the third base coach Lucas John for a steal sign; it’s his decision.
There is much for Terry to consider, and he has to do it fast. The muddy field will slow him, especially when sliding, so he would have to time it just right. Seattle’s catcher, Steve Allen, does not have a tremendous arm, but it’s good enough to through Terry out if he doesn’t get a good jump and Gates throws the right pitch. If Richie swings at the pitch, it’ll make it much harder for Allen to throw, but there’s no way to know for sure if Richie is going to swing or not—Terry could give Richie the sign that he’s going to steal, but he has an inkling that Allen would recognize it. If that happens, then Terry would be out before reaching halfway, as Allen would relay the sign to Gates, and Gates would simply throw back to seconds. It’s a tough choice, but Terry’s done it enough times that he doesn’t break a sweat.
Terry inches forward a bit. He gives Richie a hint of a sign—instead of bring his hand on top of his helmet, as if to make it fit better, he brings his hand up about halfway before letting it drop back down. Richie will recognize it if he’s looking for it. Terry lifts his first foot as soon as Gates brings his arms up over his head to begin the pitching motion. He lifts his second foot as Gates brings his arms back down and kicks with his leg, thus binding him to throwing to home plate or getting called for a balk.
Terry breaks at full speed, which isn’t the fastest on the team (that’s easily Bran), but is pretty good for an athlete as old as him. The mud does slow him; his spikes get caught in it, and soon Terry is propelling his body faster than his legs can move, so he tries to make up for it with longer strides. His legs reject it; he realizes what he is about to do too late, and now there is no stopping it. To preserve what he can, Terry breaks into an early slide; on a dry day he would have had a chance, but in the mud Terry is out by a mile.
He is slow to get up—there is a sharp and immediate pain in the back of his right leg, and soon he realizes that though he can stand all right, he cannot lift the leg without a grimace that is obvious to the fans even in the upper deck. Even before Liam sprints out of the dugout, Terry knows what it is he’s done.
“Ham-string,” Terry says when Liam is close enough to hear. He has to turn it into two words to avoid creating more pain than it’s worth.
“You sure?” The only reason Liam bothers to pretend to trust Terry’s judgment, Terry knows, is because Terry’s injured it…either his right leg or his left leg…enough times through the years to recognize it the moment it happens. Still, Terry is not a doctor, so he defers to Liam.
“I think so.”
“Felt it right away.”
“Best to come out then.” It’s almost like a ritual for the two of them, but they know it satisfies the umpires, the managers and the fans, so they do it just the same. There’s a scattering of applause as Terry leaves the field, but he knows that like his conversation with Liam, it’s more form than anything else.
It is not until he looks back at the diamond that he realizes his stolen base attempt was not entirely in vain—Leo must have caught the sign to Richie, because he took off after Terry, and with Gates and Allen distracted by Terry, he stole second with ease. The double play is averted, and just maybe Pete won’t chew his head off for trying to steal with no one out.
#32, Richie Haus, right fielder
Though Richie has long loved traveling, there is nothing about Kansas City that recommends itself to him, with the exception of the ‘Nadoes ballpark.
When the Kansas City Tornadoes had first come into existence, the owner had wanted to create a ballpark that was far different from any of the other ones in the league, one where there would be a distinct advantage to the hitters instead of the pitchers. The owner offered no explanation for it, but no one seemed to have any objection to it at the time. The result was that it was only about two months before Hilltop Park (which did not, in fact, rest on a hill), with both a short right porch and a short left field was nicknamed ‘the Silo’ by players, coaches and writers. Richie loves the park.
Taking batting practice before the evening’s game, he is in a rhythm. The long fly balls that are outs in any of the other fifteen stadiums bounce off of the outfield walls here, and for the moment Richie is able to reclaim his past glory. The evening sun is still warm enough to make him sweat a bit; the air is clear and dry. It’s a far cry from the weather in Hope City at the moment, but the forecast is for thunderstorms in the night. The air, Richie thinks, is too light to spawn a storm, but spring on the plains is unpredictable. His first year playing, the weather got violent enough during the game that the entire park was evacuated to the ‘Nadoes clubhouse, fans included, because it was the only place strong enough to withstand a tornado. They were lucky that there were a rather small number of fans in attendance, but even so, the clubhouse created a lot of new claustrophobics. Still, though, Richie thinks, even with the pleasant evening, there’s something missing with Terry nursing his hamstring and not even making the trip out west.
Terry and Richie don’t have a whole lot in common outside of baseball, but as the two oldest position players on the team they find themselves in each other’s company more often than not. With Terry not there, there isn’t really anyone that Richie feels comfortable talking to, not because he is antisocial, but because he is simply not as talented as any of the other starters. The bench guys don’t help much; Dan is a career bench guy, Eliot and Kent are likely to start eventually and Dylan simply has the problem of Adrian, Damien and TJ being too talented for him to see much playing time.
Batting practice gets boring quickly for Richie, so he gets an idea. He tells Paul, who is throwing BP as part of his throw day, to hold off for a moment.
“What’s up?” Paul drops the three baseballs he is holding in his left hand back into the supply bucket, but keeps the one he was about to release in his right.
“I want to do something…here, give me that ball.”
“Why?” Paul asks it, but he tosses the ball to Richie anyway.
“You see those fans over there?” Richie points to a girl and a boy, neither who look much older than fourteen, who are in the stands by the first base line. This early before a game, there aren’t many people in the stands, so Paul picks them out with ease. The girl, dark haired and pale, is dressed more appropriately for a rock concert, while the boy, who shares the same complexion, is wearing the jersey of ‘Nadoes second baseman Aaron Jones, an old, worn shirt that makes Richie think that neither the girl nor the boy have much money to their name. This game is maybe a once in five years treat for the two. There is a look of sheer terror on the girl’s face, though the boy seems indifferent. Richie’s seen it enough in Hope City to know why.
“Yeah? What about them?”
“You see the girl’s face?”
“Yeah…she looks like she thinks we’re about to throw this straight at her or something.”
“It’s because they don’t have seats there, they either snuck into the Silo or if they have tickets, it’s for the upper deck.”
“Why...what are you going…how do you know?”
“Follow me.” Richie walks towards the first base line trying hard to hide a smile. He’s not sure if he is about to smile because he likes the idea of teaching Paul something that Paul probably has yet to learn, or because of what he is about to do, and he refuses to smile until he knows for sure.
The girl’s look of terror only becomes more exaggerated when Richie approaches, but the boy seems undaunted. If anything, he looks disappointed that it’s Richie approaching and not the name on his jersey, Aaron Jones. There’s a security guard on the field near where Richie is, so Richie takes the five seconds to let the guard know what he is about to do. It would never fly in New York or Chicago, but here Richie knows he could get away with it every time. He gets the permission he needs, and then, without a second thought, climbs over the low wall that separates the stands from the field.
“Got a pen?” Richie addresses it to both of them, but he’s not sure if either of them comprehends the request, so he asks again. “Do either of you have a pen?”
“I think Cassie has one in her purse,” the boy sputters. He looks straight at Richie, and not at his sister. The girl, Cassie, digs through her rather large bag and comes up with a laundry marker. It’s perfect, Richie thinks, much easier to sign with than a normal pen.
“Hey, do you want two?” Paul chimes in from the field, now fully aware of what Richie is about to do. Richie nods his head, and Paul is back quickly with a second baseball. He hands it to Richie.
“Right, then, so we have Cassie and…”
“Drake,” the boy says, sheepish. “I go by JD though.”
“Cassie and JD. Right, well, tell me, and be honest, what seats are on your tickets?” Cassie grimaces and now JD looks terrified. “Well?”
“They’re…” Cassie starts, but JD elbows her slightly.
“You two brother and sister?” Richie asks it, though the two look so similar that it’s not really a question that needs asking.
“Twins,” Cassie says.
“Ah. Right. Well then, where are your seats?” Richie is met by a considerable silence.
“We’re not staying down here,” JD manages at last. “We just wanted to see batting practice up close for once…you know, see Aaron Jones up close or something…we were gonna leave before the game starts.”
“You have tickets, though?” Richie expects them to run off at this point, but to his surprise they each pull out a stub for seats in the left field upper deck. It’s good enough for him. “Well, my congratulations to you for successfully sneaking in all the way down here!”
Richie uncaps Cassie’s green marker, and on the first baseball, he writes:
To Cassie: If you sneak in, try not to look so scared. It’s a giveaway. –Richie Haus, May 18
On the second baseball, he writes:
To JD: Don’t elbow your sister like that…Aaron Jones says he’s sorry for sending me to sign this instead. –Richie Haus, May 18.
“I’m not gonna make you start rooting for the Spartans, but if I see these baseballs up for sale online or anything like that, I’m going to go and call the ‘Nadoes and tell them not to let you in to any future games, okay?” He tosses Cassie’s ball to JD, and JD’s ball to Cassie before handing Cassie back her marker. “You probably have about five seconds after I leave to sprint back to your real seats, the one on your tickets.”
“T-thanks,” JD stammers. Richie smiles and hops back onto the field, where Paul is waiting for him.
“That was awesome.” Paul tries to control his laughter, but it’s hard.
“Think I scared them just a bit?”
“Doubt it. If it was me, it’d just encourage me to try it again.”
“I’m not talking about sneaking down to the first base line, I know they’re gonna do it again. I mean, d’ya think I scared them enough that they won’t sell those baseballs?”
“Oh! In that case…if they didn’t have plans to sell autographed balls, they certainly don’t now…”
“Then I’ve done my job,” Richie says, glad to have, for once, done something worth remembering.
#9, Micah Garcia, pitcher
He won’t remember it, but Micah doesn’t pitch too poorly against Minnesota. Four runs in six innings isn’t exactly pitching well, but the Spartan offense is having a good day (even Micah has a single). When Micah leaves the game after the end of the sixth inning, the Spartans are up 6-4. It’s the best he’s pitched so far this season.
Micah’s pitching troubles are worrying not because he’s never had them before now. If that was the case, Pete wouldn’t be so worried—every pitcher goes through a rough stretch once in a while—but it’s not. Micah’s troubles are an issue for both Pete and Steven because neither can figure out exactly what’s wrong. Micah’s delivery hasn’t changed, he’s not added a new pitch, and he’s not coming back from a long time away from the mound. He’s been struggling to get his fastball to stay over 94 after the second inning, and his change up has simply not been there. Somehow, today, he managed to keep the fastball working a little longer, and while he’s aware that Pete and Steven will see it as a good sign, it is still only masking whatever is at the root of his pitching problems.
Micah showers last so he can spend a long time in the shower, after the evening’s game, thinking about it. The steamy water is not just capable of cleansing his body; it cleanses his thoughts as well. He can concentrate on any one particular pitch that he wants, any one particular at bat, and think about how if he had moved his finger just a little bit or stepped a little more towards third base, the pitch would have gone for a strike instead of a single. Whatever pitch he concentrates on, though, he still comes back to one thing: his elbow. No matter how much he stretches it, no matter how much he tries to keep it loose, there is still a nagging stiffness.
If he was Graeme or Willy, or maybe even Paul, he would have no issue going to Liam and telling him just what he felt, but three years in, he still doesn’t have a firm grasp of English. It’s much better than it was since he was a rookie, but it’s still not good enough to try to explain how his elbow feels odd when he pitches. He figures that if he did say something, one of two things would happen—either Liam will tell him that his elbow is supposed to be sore after pitching, or that if Micah can pitch a baseball over 90 miles an hour, there really isn’t any reason for concern. At least, Micah thinks, if Steven doesn’t seem to be concerned—and he doesn’t—then he’s probably just imagining it.
Micah finishes his shower with some regret. He’s not got any plans for after the game (he seldom does), but the idea of heading home for a quiet night, playing old video games to take the edge off has some merit. Eduardo did offer to take him to Roberto’s, their favorite bar, but Micah’s in no mood for alcohol. It clouds his mind, and on nights after he’s pitched, Micah’s discovered he doesn’t like to be enveloped in a shroud of mind fog.
He’s the last player to leave the clubhouse, though Pete will stay a few more hours looking over game film and the ball boys are busy enough cleaning the common area and restroom for the next game. It’s eerie without the noise of the other Spartans; Pete’s office door is closed, though Micah knows if he wanted to talk to Pete, he wouldn’t even have to knock. The game was not remarkable enough for any extended post-game coverage; the biggest baseball news of the evening is no doubt Washington’s 14-0 mauling of New England, scoring eight runs alone in the third inning against Dante, who is the Tribe’s best starter thus far.
After he dresses—pants with a tight-fitting, thin sweater—Micah knocks on Pete’s door, just to let him know he’s the last one leaving.
“Micah? That you leaving?” Micah imagines, from Pete’s voice alone, that Pete’s hit the pause on his player, looked up and addressed the inside of his door as though Micah was standing right there. It’s comforting.
“Any plans?” Pete asks out of kindness, not interest.
“A casa. Going to relax.” Relax might be Micah’s favorite English word.
“Y tambien.” It’s an afterthought, wishing each other safe travels, but it’s habit.
Micah makes his way through the tunnel, and out the player’s entrance of the Stadium. His car, which he bought before anything else in America, which he put a down payment on even before he had his New York driver’s license, is at the far end of the player’s lot. It’s a small, two-door convertible, black, with a perfectly kept interior—it is, for the moment, his baby. He’s not very good at parking, so he parks at the end of the lot because he knows no one else, not even Cory who is anal about bad drivers, will care if he’s over the line in the last row.
The drive from the Stadium to Micah’s own Hope City apartment is easy; he’s only on the main highway for three exits, and there is little traffic on a Monday night. He drives a little bit faster than the speed limit, but not faster than the flow of traffic—one speeding ticket last year was all it took for him to come to his senses, especially after the negative press it generated. He’s listening to a CD that Eduardo made for him as a ‘welcome-rookie’ present after his first win, a mix of hard rock, reggae and Latin pop. Eduardo included the Latin pop as a joke; Micah has never told anyone just how much he enjoys it. He figures—rightly—that if he were to admit such a thing, it would prompt questions from his teammates he wouldn’t want to answer.
Micah gets off at the third exit, Jefferson Street. He’s got to go four lights on the four-lane thoroughfare, before making a left onto Stewart Road, and then a second right onto Brighton Lane. The trip will take him through a gritty, though livable part of Hope City at the first light, to a respectable neighborhood by the third and fourth lights, to, finally, the nicest area of Hope City that is still a part of the city proper. TJ, Bran, Dylan and Eduardo all have apartments in one of the converted brownstones lining Brighton Lane; most of the other Spartans either own a home in Hope Falls or live in a similar neighborhood on the other side of the city. It’s not quite Manhattan, but as far as living the high life in Hope City goes, this is it.
Micah breezes through the first light, which is green, and doesn’t pay much attention, not even to his own favorite Latin pop song echoing through his speakers, as he heads straight towards the second. He’s still thinking about his elbow as he glances the light going from green to yellow, but he’s paying just enough attention that he stops when the light turns red. He loses himself in his thoughts, thinking about how that one pitch back in the third inning, if that had been called a strike, would not have started a three run inning for Minnesota, thus cutting the Spartans’ lead (at the time) to one. He thinks about how last year or the year before, he could make that pitch with no problem. He is vaguely conscious of the light turning green, and acts on reflex. He hits the gas immediately, not bothering to look to his right or to his left, so he misses the large SUV coming from his left, speeding and weaving in and out of lanes with no signs of stopping. Even if he had seen it, though, the moment Micah put his foot on the gas, the conclusion becomes inevitable.
The last thing Micah remembers, before it all goes black, is that he’s suddenly aware of the chorus to the song:
En este momento, baile!
La vida no se esperará
Friday, December 28, 2007
Well, with 2007 wrapping up, I thought it's about time for some 2008 predictions...
Baltimore Orioles: Become the first team in history to lose a game by 35 runs. Finishes at about the same number games back of the Yankees and Red Sox.
Boston Red Sox: Someone hacks into http://www.38pitches.com and posts liberal rhetoric. Story is covered for three weeks with no interruptions by Fox News.
New York Yankees: Joba, Phil and Ian conspire to get Jeter to (finally) tie the not. The ceremony occurs at the Home Run Derby.
Tampa Bay Rays: Without the 'Devil' in their name, they go on a tear, finishing third in the division with at .500 record. (Also, the boldest prediction in the lot).
Toronto Blue Jays: Manages to keep their pitching staff healthy for the entire season, but it's not much use as the bats fail to do their bit.
Chicago White Sox: After losing 17-2 in Detroit, Ozzie Guillen attempts to go on one of his trade mark rants, but a nasty case of laryngitis prevents him from saying anything. Network execs at ESPN are baffled.
Cleveland Indians: In the ultimate karmic revenge, the October Midges prevent Kenny Lofton (still playing), from getting a two-out hit in game five of the 08 ALDS.
Detroit Tigers: Start out as the best team in the league, before Willis goes down with an injury and Miggy's fielding causes some game-costing errors, and then fail to win a game after the All Star Break, once again completing the collapse of the century.
Kansas City Royals: Out-perform the St. Louis Cardinals to become the best team in Missouri.
Minnesota Twins: End up starting the season with Johan Santana, who pitches to a .500 record at the break, and the team is thus unable to trade hime. Twins finish last in the division, inciting riots in the Twin Cities.
Anaheim Angels (I don't call 'em otherwise): No longer the best team in Southern California, they enter a deal with Disney to produce Angels in the Outfield: Roid Rage.
Oakland Athletics: Having fleeced Arizona, Billy Beane wins executive of the year, even as his team misses the postseason for the second year running after (again) injuries decimate the team.
Seattle Mariners: Ichiro becomes the first player in major league history to have eight hits in a nine-inning game, but the Mariners still lose.
Texas Rangers: As the team strives to repeat its 30-run performance, they forget that bit about pitching, so when 30 runs are scored in a game they play, it's the other team that scores them.
Atlanta Braves: Still trying to reclaim the glory of the 1990s.
Florida Marlins: With all the young guys from Detroit, the Marlins, right on their five-year schedule, re-appear in the World Series.
New York Mets: Still reeling from the worst-ever September collapse, the Mets go until June before winning back-to-back games. No discernible roster changes to the pitching staff, though Minaya does manage to sign a few +35 sluggers who spend most of their time on the bench.
Philadelphia Phillies: The defending NL East champions cannot beat the youth of the Marlins, but end up taking the Wild Card anyway.
Washington Nationals: In his first start with his new team, Tyler Clippard pitches a no-hitter.
Chicago Cubs: 100 years since 1908, they'll reach the NLCS, game seven against the Marlins, in Florida, where there's a guy with tickets on the 1st base line by the name of Steve Bartman...
Cincinnati Reds: Griffey's team continues to remain irrelevant, that is, until Bud Selig resigns and the new commish decides to maybe reinstate Pete Rose...
Houston Astros: Rocket announces his return and for the first time in history, pitches in same game as his son.
Milwaukee Brewers: They go back to being the Brewers of old.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Regret non-tendering Josh Phelps as he gets the hit that puts Pittsburgh out of division contention.
St. Louis Cardinals: The combined efforts of Albert Pujols and Rick Ankiel are not quite enough to carry the team past the all-star break.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Dan Haren goes down early with an injury, but the Diamondbacks, having spent their farm system to get him, are unable to cope.
Colorado Rockies: Last year's miracle team attempts to repeat the feat, but, sadly, is unable to win 21 of 22 games.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Scott Proctor is in hiding by June.
San Diego Padres: The Padres turn out to have completed the Off-Season move of the decade when Mark Prior pitches to a 23 game win mark.
San Francisco Giants: With no Barry Bonds, nearly everyone outside of the Bay Area simply forgets that this team does, in fact, exist.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
The regular season is almost over, but nearly all eyes will rest on just one game. Good thing (for the TV networks, at least) the game's on Saturday.
New England over Giants. I will be rooting quite vociferously for the Giants, but they don't have the discipline of the Patriots.
Seattle over Atlanta. Man, must be awful to be an Atlanta football fan right about now...
New Orleans over Chicago, though, to be honest, NO might be this season's biggest disappointment.
Cleveland over San Francisco. Cleveland certainly qualifies as biggest surprise of 2007.
Green Bay over Detroit, but losing to the Bears? Seriously? That disappoints me.
Cincinnati over Miami. Sorry, but 1-14? Yeeeghhh...
Buffalo over Philadelphia. It's weird, I should be supporting Philadelphia, but something tells me Buffalo, so Buffalo it is.
Tampa Bay over Carolina. Tampa's that one team this year that's exceeded expectations...but no one's talked about it.
Jacksonville over Houston. If any AFC team other than the Pats or Colts is going to the Super Bowl, it's these dudes.
Minnesota over Denver. Because. Adrian Peterson.
San Diego over Oakland. It's just too bad LT couldn't carry my entire fantasy team. Guess it's what I get for drafting the Jets defensive line...
Jets over Kansas City. For the pure and utter hell of it.
Arizona over St. Louis. I will be surprised if anyone outside of 'Zona or St. Louis is actually watching this game...
Dallas over Washington, though it'd be kind of crazy if Washington won, I think...
Pittsburgh over Baltimore. I'm not picking a team that lost to Miami.
Indianapolis over Tennessee. Sorry Titans fans!
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
The acoustics in my house are horrible.
Catch the SPORTSTALKNY webcast tonight at 9 PM; I won't be there as I have tickets for the Nets (holy @#$# what did they do to ticket prices?!), but I did tape this as a substitute.
Monday, December 24, 2007
Wishing everyone who celebrates a Merry Christmas and a pleasant and relaxing holiday.
Haven't got much planned myself; might see a movie and do the obligatory dinner of Chinese food, but I'm not sure we, as a family can agree on a movie.
One thing to make the nights seem a bit shorter:
We're now on the upswing, with less days between now and 14 February, when pitchers and catchers report, than between the last out of the 2007 World Series and today.
Though I will easily admit it hasn't felt like it's been over fifty five days since November 1...
Here's to a safe ride for Santa ;)
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Sorry I haven't done any updating the last couple days, but, to be honest, the last couple of days have not been the most exciting ever in the world of baseball.
As always, (c) Rebecca Glass, all international copyright laws apply. Please protect intellectual property rights.
Please be warned that today's update contains some material that may not be suitable for all readers.
#18, Paul Green, pitcher
“You wanted to see me?” Paul’s in Pete Towers’ office, sweating worse than a hog, just after he’s pitched his first win, against Chicago. It wasn’t the best pitching performance of his life, but it was good enough: four runs in seven innings, on seven hits (including a two-run double that should have probably been caught by Richie Haus). The Spartans were able to grind out two runs in the bottom of the seventh to win the game 6-4, but Paul knows he’ll have to pitch better against better teams. The air in the locker room is a bit stale, like rusty metal, and he is slightly irritated by the music coming through the speakers; he can’t stand reggae.
“Good effort today.” Pete doesn’t budge from his chair. He’s sipping on what looks like a cup full of cola—his own after-a-win treat. “You need to work with Steven on your change, though.”
“I know. Graeme’s been really helpful so far.” Another thing Graeme’s told Paul: if Pete says something needs work, it needs work. Argue with him, and you’ll miss more than just your next start.
“Graeme’s an excellent mentor, you’re getting advice from one of the best, but it’s your mechanics that need work and Steven’s the one to go to for that.”
“He’s been…” Paul hesitates, unsure if he should proceed, but a glance from Pete tells him he doesn’t have a choice, he has to finish what he’s started. “He’s been really occupied with Micah. It’s almost like…it feels like…he doesn’t realize I exist.”
“You’re a rookie. You get no breaks. Steven will talk to Graeme because Graeme’s the team ace and has to pitch like it, he’ll go to Willy because he’s the ace if Graeme gets hurt, and Graeme usually misses a few starts in August with a tired arm. He’s talking to Micah now because Micah’s not throwing well and we need to get Micah sorted because we have him signed for six and it’s his third year. You’re not one of his priorities right now. You want his attention, you got to get it yourself.” There’s no sympathy in Pete’s voice as he says it; instead it comes across as a man spouting the facts of life. The earth is round. Baseball is played in the summer. Paul is a rookie.
“Micah’s arm right now is more important. Your change isn’t horrible, and you can win games on your fastball alone, but your change does need a lot of work if you’re going to reach your ceiling—“
“My ceiling?” Paul doesn’t want to admit that he’s not really paid attention to the press about him; it weirds him out, and thus, he has only a limited idea as to how high he projects—he’s good enough to be in the starting rotation. He doesn’t know where, though.
“You project higher than Micah. If you get your change working right, higher than Willy as well.”
“But not a number one.” Paul is not the best one in the world at taking hints. He admits it, but only when he realizes that hints are being given, which, in this case, he doesn’t.
“You miss my point. Right now, you project higher than Micah. Micah’s a three, so that puts you at number two. You get that change working for you, you project higher than Willy. Willy is a number two. That puts you at the number one category. Enough experience behind you, and not just four games, and you’ll learn the stuff for an ace. Especially if you keep hanging around Graeme.”
“Graeme’s the ace though.” Paul laughs. He thinks Graeme would not take too kindly to the notion that a rookie could threaten his stature as an ace.
“Graeme’s also in his eleventh year and he’s forty. You’re in your first and twenty-three. Graeme might be around another year, maybe two, three if he does something I don’t want to know, but you’re going to be around a helluva lot longer then that. When the Haus brothers drafted you, they were drafting the guy that they think can fill the void when Graeme retires.”
“I thought that was why they drafted William,” Paul says, utterly bewildered. Until ten minutes ago, he thought his job description started and ended with ‘win games for Hope City’, but now it’s a bit more than that. He’s supposed to be good enough for the cover of Sports Weekly, as Graeme has graced it no less than five different occasions.
“Willy’s a stopgap. He can fill it at one if Graeme’s hurting or running a bad stretch and you’re not quite ready yet, but, good as he is, you’ve got a better fastball and, if the scouts are right, you pitch better in a jam.”
“I…” Paul can’t find the words. William Tully a stopgap? He’s read enough online and in Sports Weekly to know that there are plenty of other teams, like Florida, Detroit, Memphis and Texas that would be willing to trade their best players for William to be their number one.
“You need to find Steven and work on your change.” Pete raises his eyebrows, and Paul takes this as his cue to wander back into the locker room proper.
Paul can’t help but walk back to his locker with a gait a little more pronounced, a little more confident than when he walked into Pete’s office. It’s not pronounced enough for anyone to notice, but that doesn’t matter. His sweaty uniform doesn’t itch any more, the fresh air in the locker room feels like a summer breeze, and Bran’s beloved reggae has a danceable beat. Paul can feel it. Graeme was his childhood hero, and now he’s supposed to be able to pitch that well, if he can figure out how to control his changeup.
It hits him like a freight train when he realizes that what Pete knows is no secret from Graeme. Graeme isn’t just trying to be a friend to Paul, he’s not just trying to be a veteran mentor, he is trying to prepare Paul for a future as a team ace, which means that if Graeme’s not planning on retiring at the end of this year, his childhood idol will certainly be retiring by the end of next.
#36, Ben Abraham, Catcher
It should become a tradition, Ben thinks; going to Ha’Shemesh, the only kosher deli in all of Hope City, after a home win with Graeme and Paul has a nice tone to it. For a long time, Ben was not just the only Jewish baseball player on the Spartans, he was the only Jewish player in the entire league. It was like getting a high dose of adrenaline injected directly into his heart when Paul divulged that he was Jewish as well.
It happened back in April, at the end of Passover, when, in the locker room, Ben made a remark to Paul about how the tuna sandwich he was eating was really good. Paul asked if it was because of the bread, Ben replied in the affirmative, and then Paul, shy as ever, asked Ben if he was also Jewish. The two had been friendly before, but the revelation turned them into something like brothers. Sure, Paul was only half Jewish, and far less religious than Ben, but that very night, Ben took Paul to Ha’Shemesh just to celebrate their shared heritage.
The next win, Paul talked about going again—nothing like a corned beef sandwich on warm rye bread toast—and when Ben said that he’d had plans with Graeme, it was Paul’s idea to invite Graeme along as well. Graeme accepted the offer, and despite his gentile-ism, enjoyed the evening just as much as Paul and Ben. They went again the win after that, and now, today, it feels like it has the makings of a tradition.
At first the deli staff wasn’t too keen on the Spartan invasion, but Ben, Paul and Graeme have proved good customers: a sizeable order, moderate alcohol consumption, large tips for the staff and they never make a fuss with the fans. Ben knows how much Graeme hates being pestered for an autograph when eating, so, to him, it’s that much more remarkable when Graeme takes out a pen and signs a napkin or piece of clothing (for lack of other suitable autograph object).
The deli itself is a pleasant, well-lit and clean storefront, with tables set against the windows on the front and side. It’s a bit small for a restaurant; there is almost always a line for lunch, though seldom for dinner. A strong odor of chicken soup and matzo balls permeates, even though they are far from the most popular items on the menu. It reminds Ben of childhood Rosh HaShannah or Passover dinners, where the smell was always enough to guarantee a good evening.
“So,” Ben says, when they’ve all finished eating, and are trying to let the food digest, “how about making it official?”
“Make what official?” Playing with his straw, Paul takes one of the ice cubes in his drink and lets it set in his mouth. Ben would find it odd if he didn’t do the same thing himself.
“Ha’Shemesh after a win.”
“You mean the three of us? Just the three of us?”
“Sure. Unless, y’know, Leo’s secretly a Jew or something.” Ben smiles, and takes a toothpick to try to get some leftovers out of his teeth.
“Leo the Jew,” Graeme laughs. “Josef Stalin the hippie.” It’s a joke between the three that they only ever see Leo eating pork or shellfish, as non-kosher as non-kosher can get.
“Sorry, it’s just…well, I’ve just made it a habit of eating dinner with Graeme Johnson and Ben Abraham.” Paul looks like he’s trying so hard not to blush that his entire face turns beet red. He might as well have just said that he’s made a habit of eating dinner with the Pope and the Dalai Lama.
“It’s not a bad habit to have,” Ben laughs. “I guess I can say I’ve just made a habit of eating dinner with Graeme Johnson and Paul Green. I’d brag about that.”
“Who would you rather be eating dinner with—Ben and myself, us fine folk—or Monty and Pete?”
“You mean you could actually get Monty and Pete to eat dinner at the same table?” Ben fakes his amazement, which causes Graeme to erupt in a laugh a little too loud for such a small establishment. The heads of the other patrons all turn accordingly, stare for a moment, and then go back to what it was that they were doing.
“I could see it if Pete was trying to tell Monty he’d been traded to Washington or Kansas City. Tell Monty to come to dinner, because Pete’s got something to tell him, and Monty gets dressed up all nice, expecting that he’s going to hear he’s made the rotation, and then Pete says ‘so we’ve signed this kid from China, and it turns out, we don’t need you any more, so we’re giving you up for a bag of balls’.” It’s not quite mean enough to provoke any pity from Ben for Monty, but it does stir Ben’s thoughts in another direction.
“The kid from China…what’s his name again? Ming?”
“Li Ming,” Paul says, in a low voice as if he doesn’t want to admit that he will soon no longer be the only rookie on the team.
“Li Ming. Steven talked to either of you about him yet?”
“Nope,” Graeme replies. Paul doesn’t say anything, but there’s no reason to: if Steven hasn’t talked to Graeme about something not directly related to pitching mechanics, there’s no chance he’s talked to Paul about it. “Did he talk to you?”
“A little. Said the kid’s going to have a bit of an issue adjusting to our hitting, and he’s going to have to learn to keep his pitches down more.”
“Sounds like a job for a catcher,” Graeme laughs. “You up for it?”
“They don’t call them the tools of ignorance for nothing, y’know…I’m up for it no matter what.” Ben chuckles, but doesn’t laugh outright.
“Well, you’re good at it,” Paul says, a rookie comment that’s a bit misplaced. He knows it. “When’s he get here anyway?”
“I think the sixth,” Ben says, “but I’m not sure. He’s supposed to start against Denver or Kansas City, I think…anyway, that’s what the paper said, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Pete has him starting at Detroit, with the way…” Ben trails off, not anxious to finish the thought. Graeme does it for him.
“With the way Micah’s been throwing?”
“Pete won’t take a start from Micah unless Steven tells him there’s a problem, and so far Steven hasn’t done that.”
“It’s not like Steven to bring something to Pete’s attention, though…at least, half the time we’ve both been here, if someone’s hurt, it’s me telling Liam to get his ass on the field, not Steven.” It’s true, perhaps even more than half of the time. Ben’s called on Liam’s assistance on the field for an injury at least twice as often as Steven; Ben’s never pursued it but suspects it’s a case of Steven simply not recognizing the signs of an injury you can’t see. Any other pitching coach would have been canned, but Steven comes cheap, which is a benefit to Charlie Haus, and he’s one of the best there is at mechanics.
“Even so, Pete’s not going to take a start from Micah unless he has no other choice, and he’d be in no rush to do that. If this Ming kid takes Micah’s start, it still means we need a fifth and, well, we all know the only one that wants Monty to start is Monty Allison.”
So far, Ben knows, the Spartans have gotten by on just four starters. They’ve got a winning record, which might be one of the reasons it’s not mentioned much in the papers, but the Spartans are still in third place, not first. The Spartans need a fifth starter to push them over the edge from also-ran to playoff-bound; offense wins games, but defense wins championships and pitching creates dynasties. It’s one of the first things he ever learned about baseball.
“Hope he can pitch,” Paul says, sighing. Ben understands it: Paul wants him to pitch well enough to help the team win the games they’re not winning, but not well enough to supercede Paul as the rookie phenom. Ben doesn’t envy Paul’s position.
“I think we all do. I just hope he speaks enough English so I can actually talk to him on the mound. The only Chinese I know is Beijing and Mao.” Graeme and Paul laugh, but Ben doesn’t follow suit. It was hard enough Micah’s first year to converse with him, and Ben knows a fair amount of Spanish.
Still, something tells Ben that whether or not he and Li Ming can converse on the mound is going to be the least of his worries.
#4, Damien Riley, shortstop
On the field Damien finds his release. Even in a place as unforgiving to him as Detroit, when he steps onto the field, his worries vanish. He doesn’t think about it when he steps into the batter’s box in the seventh inning, Spartans down 4-2 on a two-run home run from the Moose centerfielder, LB Omar, runner on first and third with one out.
“Damien,” Alia says, “what are you doing here?”
“Thinking.” He had gone back to the grave. Without the February chill, without the snow, he could visit the grave and think about something other than the cold.
“About it again? You need to stop that. You can’t change what happened.”
“It keeps me from going back.”
“If you really cared about not going back you would have left this town a long time ago.” She gets impatient, starts tapping her foot. It bothers Damien.
“How do you know that?”
“You’re the only one that’s ever had the chance to leave, and you didn’t.” The reference is obvious and Damien hates it. It’s not his fault that Alia smoked her way through high school, sniffed her way through community college, and only now started to make amends by snagging a thankless job as a night shift employee at The Big Box Store.
“I nearly threw it away.”
“It wasn’t you. They didn’t know you needed help.”
Damien doesn’t respond straight away. He doesn’t like to admit it, but the truth is he knows Charlie Haus knew he needed help. After all, it was Charlie Haus that paid for rehab, and Charlie welcomed him back to the team after his suspension. Most other owners wouldn’t have given him the opportunity to come back. Most other owners don’t know Hope City.
“Well standing around here isn’t going to do anything. Come on, I’ve got something to show you.” Alia starts to walk away from the grave, towards the park entrance. Damien follows her.
Damien can hear the taunts of the crowd. They’re chanting coke-head, but Damien doesn’t process it. It exists as part of the background, part of the white noise that is so prevalent that its absence would be more notable.
He digs in, planting his feet on the right side of home plate, in the left-handed hitter’s batter’s box. He doesn’t have much of a psych-out ritual; he winds his arm around, bat in hand as though it’s being cranked by an invisible hand, and then comes to a stop when the bat comes almost full circle. He keeps his eye on the pitcher, but instead of looking at the pitcher’s body or arm motion, he looks straight at the pitcher’s face. If there’s a tell, Damien will find it in the pitcher’s eyes. He guesses fastball.
Damien guesses right, the pitch is a fastball, but it’s so far outside that the catcher has to jump up to block it, to prevent Bran from stealing home. TJ, though, on first, takes second base with ease. Damien resets himself, and waits for the next pitch.
Alia leads Damien to a storefront on one of the backroads a few blocks from the main Hope City thoroughfares. Her full figure makes her look like she’s about ten years older than she is; Damien knows of at least one child she’s had and forced to give up to the state and he suspects there have been others.
The store fronts itself as a hardware store; when Damien voices his dismay, Alia remarks that it’s her friend Shia’s store, and again says she’s got something to show him.
“What is this?”
“Come on, this way.” Alia leads him inside a cramped and uncomfortable store, and then through a poorly lit hallway to a back room. There’s not much there aside from boxes of extra inventory, a high window and a small table.
“What is this?
“Here.” Alia takes one of the boxes, sets it on the table, takes out a pocketknife from her cargo pants and opens the tape. She lifts the lid of the box open, and Damien sees so much gold, silver and shine at once that it nearly blinds him.
“Alia, what the fuck?”
“Shia and me...we need to get out of HC. They’ve taken two kids from me, I don’t want them taking a third.” There’s a hint of panic in Alia’s voice as she says the last bit.
“So you’re selling stolen jewelry?” It’s all Damien can manage. That box alone is probably worth a few thousand; all of the boxes together…it’s a number Damien can’t fathom.
“It’s not stolen. Shia bought it off a guy he knows.” Alia shrugs. “It took a lot of powder, but at least this we can sell online.”
“You’re knocked up and you’re using?” There is palpable disgust in Damien’s voice.
“I ain’t. Shia gets his stuff cheap.”
“Why are you showing me this?” Damien could end it here. He could walk back out of the front of the store, back to the main road and grab a bus or a taxi back to his place or TJ’s place and spend the night there. The plane for Detroit doesn’t leave until midday tomorrow. Damien thinks about it, and then decides he can’t leave Alia like that. He’s known her since grade school.
“I…we…I need your help.”
“You’re not asking me to…”
“Please? There have got to be some guys on the team that need a piece for their girls…”
“Sure there are, but they’d go to actual stores, not buy it off a couple people that got it for snow.”
“Damien…I don’t want them taking another kid from me.” There is a certain helplessness in Alia’s eyes.
“Shia’s the father? How long have you been together, two months?” Damien drops his voice low so that even if Shia had noticed the two coming into the store, he would have thought that Damien had left
“He hasn’t asked to marry you yet? How do you know he’ll stay?”
“He says he wants the kid. He’s been paying for me to see a doctor. It’s kept me clean so far.”
“He uses, Alia.” Damien is reproachful. He’s known Alia so long, and he knows that really, she’s a good girl, but if there’s anyone that’s been hurt more by the drugs in the past then Damien, it’s her. He wants to help her, but he wants to help her right. “I can’t do this. I’m sorry.”
Damien steadies himself and waits for the next pitch of the at bat. With one out he doesn’t have to hit it particularly hard or far; it just has to go to the right side, slow enough that the first baseman doesn’t have time to stop Bran from taking home. Bran’s already taken a giant lead; he’s probably closer to home than the third base bag. Bran’s never afraid to get his uniform dirty, Damien thinks, as there’s baseball dirt covering so much of the front of his jersey that the HOPE CITY is almost undecipherable.
The expression in the pitcher’s face has changed from the last pitch, but it’s so slight that if Damien hadn’t been looking for it, he wouldn’t have caught it. There’s less confidence in it, which either means that the next pitch is a fastball that will look like the size of a watermelon, or an off-speed pitch that the pitcher is not comfortable throwing. Damien guesses off-speed, and he guess wrong. By the time the pitch actually looks like a watermelon, it’s too late for Damien to start his swing and make contact, so he doesn’t attempt it. Best that could happen if he swings is that he just catches the edge of it and maybe a weak single. Worst that could happen is catching the edge of it, and fouling out to the catcher. Getting runners in with one out is like driving in auto on an interstate. Getting runners in with two outs is like driving in manual, uphill, in an ice storm. So Damien doesn’t swing.
One ball, one strike. He resets.
Damien is about to walk out of the store, out of the front, when he hears it. Again. That sound. The wailing that’s better suited for a banshee than human ears. He knows without knowing where the wailing is headed: here.
“Shit,” Alia says, when she comes to the same realization. It’s happened to both of them so often that they don’t even have to run on instinct. They can remain calm and think above it. “Get me that tape.”
Damien follows her nod to a roll of packing tape lying on top of a different box, and hesitates. If he gives her the tape, the box is closed, the police can’t open it without a warrant, and Alia lives to see another day just like this one. If he keeps the tape from her, they come in, they find the box, the jewelry which may or may not be counterfeit, and Alia and Shia get to think their choices over long and hard in the city jail for a few days...Shia is done for when he fails the drug test, but Damien doesn’t even know Shia, let alone care about him. If Alia is really clean, then it would just be a scare. Problem is, if he chooses this course, he’ll go down to the city jail with them. Not exactly something that would sit well (or at all) with Pete or Charlie Haus.
Alia’s life or his career. He’s got about five seconds to choose. Alia’s words echo in his mind—he’s the only one that’s ever had a chance.
He grabs the tape and tosses it to Alia.
“They’re after Shia, for the powder.” There is worry in Alia’s voice and in that worry Damien hears that she really thinks Shia cares about her.
“Get yourself straightened out.” Damien sees the back door, tests it, and finds it unlocked. He exits.
There are cars in the parking lot behind the store, but they don’t seem to
notice Damien. He’s not their target, not today, so he doesn’t entice them. If they recognize him, and Damien expects they do, they wouldn’t be so keen on nabbing him for something he’s not obviously doing, so Damien is able to walk back to the road without an issue.
Instead of heading back to his place, or TJ’s, he heads back to the grave. The desire to leave Hope City swells up inside him, makes him feel like he might just explode.
Then he remembers that the team’s going to Detroit, and he breathes a bit easier.
Again, Damien steadies himself. Bran and TJ both look antsy, but glancing at TJ has another benefit: TJ’s caught the signs from the catcher, and he relays them back to Damien. Leading off second with his hand hanging between his legs, the pitch is a fastball. His leading foot pointed towards third base and not home plate, the pitch is going to be down. Something Damien can hit on the ground. Damien looks at the pitcher’s face, at the pitcher’s expression, and finds the confirmation he needs. He adjusts his helmet, a signal to Bran to go for home on contact.
The pitch comes, and it’s exactly what Damien is looking for, so he steps and swings. He makes solid contact, the ball fast on the ground, stopped from the outfield only by Detroit’s diving first baseman. His only play is at first base; Damien runs through the bag anyway, just as he’s been taught. Bran scores easily, TJ goes to third, and now Adrian has a chance to do what he gets paid to do.
He high-fives Bran on the way back to the dugout, and smiles at Ben and Terry, but he says nothing.
He’s thinking about Alia.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
So I was talking with a friend last night, and he had an interesting quandry:
If Roger Clemens had, in fact, retired in 2002, he would have likely gained first-ballot admission to the Hall of Fame this year.
With all the talk about whether or not he (or any known steroid user) should gain HoF admission, there is the question that arise: what if someone well known and respected gets into the Hall of Fame, only to later be implicated in PED use?
What if Clemens had gotten into the Hall of Fame, before the Report came out? I'm sure the question now would be whether or not Clemens deserves to remain in the Hall?
It might be uncomfortable addressing such a question, but I will be surprised if it does not come up, and sooner rather than later. It'd certainly be more crushing--to find someone we all believed to have gotten in on talent and work ethic had successfully deceived us--than it would be if the deception is caught before the Hall of Fame vote becomes an issue.
Perception is often more important than reality. There are numerous instances of this throughout history--but I'll attempt to restrain my own political bias on a sports blog. There are other examples, though--think of Santa, the Tooth Fairy, even judged competitions--the gold might not go to the best skater, but instead the best competitor for that one performance.
It might not be right, but the hall of fame inductee isn't necessarily the best player out there--just the one we believe is the best. Think of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez--Alex has the pure numbers, Jeter has the rings. Which one do you take?
What happens when, of two guys in the same class, one gets in and the other doesn't, and then, g-d forbid, the one that gets in is shown to have used PEDs, what then? Yeah, it's likely the one that didn't get in will eventually get in, but he'll have missed out on the whole first ballot thing.
What do you guys think? What happens if someone gets into the Hall and it's later revealed he used PEDs? Should there be an asterisk? Something more? Can you revoke someone's HoF status?
It's an interesting question, and I don't really have an answer for it.
Dang, this season went fast.
All right, here we go, I know last week was horrible, but maybe this week will be better.
Pittsburgh over St. Louis. They need a good win in the worst way.
Dallas over Carolina. I'm pretty sure Jessica's not going to this game, which means T. Romo can focus. Carolina's playing for their playoff lives, but a lot has to go just right...kind of like the Rockies.
Giants over Buffalo. Because if the Giants don't win, they'd have to play the Pats to get into the playoffs, and we all know how that's (probably) going to go.
Green Bay over Chicago. Favre has all the important records. It's almost a pride thing at this point.
Cleveland over Cincinnati. To think, at the beginning of the season, we thought it would be Cincinnati fighting for the playoff spot...
Detroit over Kansas City. Detroit's a bit of a disappointment, after that start, isn't it?
Indianapolis over Houston. Gonna be some AFC championship game, isn't it?
Philadelphia over New Orleans. Heh, you beat Dallas, you get my pick.
Jacksonville over Oakland. AFC sleeper, the Jags are.
Arizona over Atlanta. When you lose Parcells to Miami, you have no manner of luck at all.
Tampa Bay over San Francisco. Run Michael run Michael, etc...
Tennessee over Jets. They need the win for the playoffs, the Jets need the loss for the draft. Not that we'd ever do something good with it, but that's besides the point.
New England over Miami, though Miami is riding the bigger wave of momentum.
Seattle over Baltimore. Dude, you lost to Miami? Even the Jets beat Miami, and they didn't even need overtime.
Minnesota over Washington. I like Adrian Peterson.
San Diego over Denver. Good to know somethings end as predicted.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
SportstalkNY is on again tonight, nine PM Eastern, click here to watch and listen live.
Our guests tonight are Ed Willes, author of The Rebel League about the World Hockey Association, and Mark Littell, inventor of the NuttyBuddy, but perhaps more famous for giving up the Chris Chambliss home run in game five of the 1976 ALCS (see last post).
As always, there is a chatroom at the site, and we take calls at 631-615-4799.
I'm off to see Enchanted this afternoon. Hope it's worth my $10.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
So this week's classic moment is in recognition of the guest we will have on the SPORTSTALKNY webcast tomorrow, Mark Littell.
In 1976, the New York Yankees made it back to the postseason for the first time since the early 1960s, where they faced the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS.
Going into the deciding Game Five (the LCS was a five game set at the time), at Yankee Stadium, the Yanks started Ed Figueroa on three days' rest, and both teams scored quickly, the score tied at two at the end of the first.
The Yankees were able to build to a 6-3 lead in the eighth, but Kansas City struck back, and the game was tied at six going into the ninth.
In the ninth inning, Mark Littell was on the mound for KC and the Yankees had Chris Chambliss up at bat...
Yep, just as you might think, Chambliss sent the pitch high over the right-field wall, and the Yankees went on to their first World Series in 12 years. They lost the Series, but won the next two--including the '77 World Series, where Jackson blasted three home runs in one game.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Not much new in Yankee land, so some news stories around the league you may have missed...
Dan Haren to 'Zona. The price for Arizona? Most of its present and future farm system. Remember when the Yankees used to think that was a good idea? Yea? Well, I'm glad the Yanks don't any more.
Jim Edmonds to Padres. Remember when this guy was good?
Phillies interested in Mike Cameron Wow, the center field market must be really thin...
SPORTSTALKNY moves back to its regular timeslot this week at 9 PM on Wednesday. Our guests are Ed Willes, author of The Rebel League, and former major league pitcher and coach Mark Littell, also the inventor of the 'nutty buddy'.
Tune in, turn on, have fun.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
So my brother and I went to the Devils/Flyers game today; as is usual with these two teams, the game was rough--two major fights and a lot of minor penalties--and the Devils won, 4-2. Madden had two goals; Asham and Langenbrunner had the others for the Devils.
The Prudential Center (or, as it were, the Rock) is an unbelievable improvement over the Meadowlands; I mean, there's even a sushi bar!
We had great seats, third row towards one end, sort of midway between the Flyers' bench and the goal.
So, some pictures:
during pregame introductions
Face-off in front of the Flyers' goal. No goal immediately resulted.
Brodeur. Or, as it were, Deity.
Brodeur after having just stopped a penalty shot.
Celebrating after a goal.
Oh, by the way...Miami won and the Jets covered the spread...but you knew that.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
This Season update is a little different than the others, in that the "newspaper articles" aare a differet format from the rest of the novel. Hopefully, you'll still enjoy.
The month of May will start next Sunday.
As always, (c) Rebecca Glass, all international copyright laws apply.
Newspaper Articles by beat writer Dick Holt of Note:
All About Eve (April 1st)
As Eliot Zephyr and his best friend and lookalike separated-at-birth twin Kent Andrews flew to Hope City at the end of Spring Training, to spend a week at the Stadium before opening their season at Washington, Zephyr had a secret: he had secretly arranged for Andrews’ fiancé, the actress Eve Lockwood to meet him at the airport.
This wouldn’t have normally been of note, except that Lockwood had been in England filming her new movie, the costume-drama Tudor Rose, and wasn’t expected to be Stateside again until Easter.
So what was Andrews’ reaction when he saw the love of his life standing just past the airport security gate at one in the morning?
“Holy Sh--!” he is rumored to have said, jumping into Lockwood’s arms, even as she is about half of his size and certainly not as strong.
“Best laugh of my life,” Zephyr told reporters after the deed was done.
“Kent had no idea…it was a great way to end Spring Training.”
Through some careful plotting with Pete Towers, Charlie Haus and Lockwood herself, Zephyr was able to secure Lockwood for four days in the States—not a whole lot, but enough for Andrews and Lockwood to be able to sneak down to New York City for a few days. Though both have been to New York before, this time they were able to go for fun, and not work. They took in Central Park, the Empire State building, saw a show on Broadway, and also visited the Met—as Andrews says, Lockwood is something of a connoisseur.
Lockwood went back to England at the week’s end, to finish filming her role as the conspirator Margaret of Burgundy, but as she and Andrews say, the memories of this week will last a lifetime.
Adrian earns an A+ in First Aid (April 11th)
He’s performed heroics with his glove, and even more with his bat, but yesterday morning, Spartans’ third baseman Adrian Martinez performed heroics of another sort as he provided assistance for a woman going into labor in the buffet room of the Spartans’ hotel in Washington, DC.
Martinez was eating a breakfast of waffles when he heard a cry from across the room.
“I jumped, saw a woman had fainted and ran. It was all instinct,” Martinez said.
Some instinct. The woman, who has requested to remain anonymous, was carrying her first child when her water broke, the stress of which, apparently, caused her to lose consciousness. Paramedics were quick to arrive on scene—thanks due to Martinez, who had the quick foresight to dial 911 from his own cell phone.
The woman made it to the hospital where she was safely delivered of a boy, whom she says she is naming Tyler Adrian, after the boy’s paternal grandfather, and Martinez. When asked, she responded that while she and her husband had decided on the first name a while ago (a girl would have been named Susan, after the maternal grandmother), they had been stuck on a middle name.
“It’s an honor,” Martinez said, regarding the name. “I just found out from the press just now, it really does make me smile.”
Something else that should make Martinez smile: in yesterday’s game, he went 4-5, with a monster home run and two doubles. Martinez also made two spectacular plays at third base. In the fourth inning, he robbed Washington’s second baseman of an extra base hit, and in the ninth, he turned a spectacular double play to end the game.
There is considerable pressure for Martinez to repeat his all-star performance from last year, but it is, so far, Martinez’s off-field doings that have been most worthy of note.
State Drops Martin Abuse Case (April 20th)
State prosecutors have dropped their pursuit of a case against Spartans’ relief pitcher Jeff Martin, it was reported late yesterday night. Martin had been implicated in a domestic abuse case back in October of last year; he was never formally indicted, though he had been questioned by state officials on three different occasions.
The Hope City district attorney Charlotte Walters cited a lack of sufficient evidence as the reason for dropping the case, but was adamant that should new evidence come to light, the DA’s office would not hesitate to prosecute.
The case against Martin was based on the accusation by his wife, Marie’s, brother Jean, who maintained that Marie had called him in hysterics on a night shortly after the Spartans had been eliminated from the playoffs, saying that Martin had pushed her down the stairs of their Hope City apartment. However, upon visiting the apartment, the police found that the stairs in question were two steps separating the living area from the kitchen. Martin had alleged that though the two had argued, he merely was trying to walk past her—from the kitchen to the carpeted living area—when she lost her balance and fell, twisting her ankle.
Martin had no prior history of abuse, and no police record in either the US or in his native New Brunswick, Canada, or in his wife’s native Quebec. Though Martin and his wife live in Hope City during the baseball season, they spend the off season alternating between Quebec City and Martin’s parents’ farm in New Brunswick.
The two have no children.
Chinese New Year (April 28th)
Though the Chinese New Year is celebrated in late January or February, the Hope City Spartans might want to consider making an exception for this year and celebrate it now, in late April. Late last night, word came through that Spartans’ general manager Brendan Haus had convinced Chinese pitching phenom Li Ming to sign with the Spartans for a three year, $3 million contract.
The move is considered a major coup; though there are no Chinese-born baseball players currently in the starting line-up for any team in the league, it had been rumored that New York, New England, Seattle and California had all been interested in signing the pitcher. In fact, it had been rumored that New York was prepared to offer an $11 million deal over five years and California a $10 million deal over four, but Brendan Haus was the only GM to board a plane to Shanghai, and meet with Li in person.
It is, no doubt, a risky move; though Japanese players are commonplace, the Japanese baseball leagues are far more developed than their Chinese counter-parts. In fact, the only other team that has a Chinese-born player on its roster is Seattle; Xiang Zhou is a utility infielder, who also plays a decent shortstop and second base.
However, the Spartans have long been in need of a fifth starter; while Graeme Johnson is a proven veteran and William Tully is considered too good to give up in any trade, Micah Garcia has not come out of Spring Training looking well and Paul Green is a rookie with three career starts.
It is now well known that Monty Allison wants to return to the starting rotation; there will no doubt be speculation that this signing is a move to keep Monty in the bullpen, but such speculation should be taken with a grain of salt. The Spartans have long needed the pitching depth to compete with bitter rivals New York and New England (especially New York), but they have long lacked the money to sign the big names or had the players to make the big trade. By going to China before any of the other GMs (or even the commissioner) got wind of the plan, Haus was able to sign Li before the offered contracts spiraled out of the Spartans’ price range.
Last season, with his local team, Li was 14-2 over nineteen games, with an ERA of 3.04, and a 7-2 K/BB ratio. Assuming his arrival in the US goes on schedule, he is slated to make his first start against Denver or at Kansas City.
As we'd say in Yiddish, Andy Pettitte is a mensch.
His statement, issued through his agent and posted by Pete Abraham:
First, I would like to say that contrary to media reports, I have never used steroids. I have no idea why the media would say that I have used steroids, but they have done so repeatedly. This is hurtful to me and my family.
In 2002 I was injured. I had heard that human growth hormone could promote faster healing for my elbow. I felt an obligation to get back to my team as soon as possible. For this reason, and only this reason, for two days I tried human growth hormone. Though it was not against baseball rules, I was not comfortable with what I was doing, so I stopped. This is it - two days out of my life; two days out of my entire career, when I was injured and on the disabled list.
If what I did was an error in judgment on my part, I apologize. I accept responsibility for those two days. Everything else written or said about me knowingly using illegal drugs is nonsense, wrong and hurtful. I have the utmost respect for baseball and have always tried to live my life in a way that would be honorable. I wasn’t looking for an edge; I was looking to heal.
If I have let down people that care about me, I am sorry, but I hope that you will listen to me carefully and understand that two days of perhaps bad judgment should not ruin a lifetime of hard work and dedication. I have tried to do things the right way my entire life, and, again, ask that you put those two days in the proper context. People that know me will know that what I say is true.
HGH was not banned until 2005, so even if what he did was unethical, it wasn't illegal.
The best thing to do for anyone is to admit it (if it's true), and that's what Pettitte did. He has the whatchamacallit to stand up and take responsibility for his actions.
If only there were others who did that as well...
"On a long road, miles to go,
It's winding and cold and covered with snow
But I ask you what we all want to know
Where are we going from here?"
--Blackmore's Night, "Where Are We Going From Here?"
So now that the Mitchell Report is out, and the "Mitchell 86" are rightfully or wrongfully excused, the question now becomes: What next?
Do you punish the offenders? I am going to break ranks with the majority and say I agree with Bud Selig--you have to take everything on a case-by-case basis. Someone who asked about HGH once but never actually used it is far different from someone who injected themselves with steroids for five or ten years, consistently.
What should the players do who are named? If you're guilty, fess up. It's that simple. Purists will probably never forgive you entirely, but at least both parties can move on--denying it, if you're guilty, only makes you look like a bigger fool in the end. If you're innocent, stay that way.
What about people getting into the Hall of Fame? This is a tough one--I've felt for a while that McGwire and Bonds should not be allowed into the Hall, so, by that logic, I would have to say that Clemens, if he is guilty, should also be barred...but if you consider what he did while on the Red Sox, it's likely he would have been Hall of Fame caliber anyway. Then again, the same is true with Bonds and when he was on the Pirates. Unfortunately, this is a question we will be debating for a long time to come.
What do you do now? You get an independent testing body. You make sure the random tests really are random. You screen clubhouse managers ad any package coming into the locker room that's, say, large enough to hide whatever drug of choice. You don't just go after the players, but you go after the suppliers as well.
Are there criticisms of the Mitchell Report? Galore. I need not recount them all for you, as I am sure you are well aware of most of these.
What now? We move on.
Take the hits and move on. Don't let it become the defining moment of baseball--1919 certainly is not; neither should this be. Rise above it.
The fans will still be there come April 1st, because, as always, there is nothing higher than the game.
Friday, December 14, 2007
This is what it looked like outside my apartment yesterday:
They've since plowed the road, but I still have to dig my car out of the driveway. Should be lots of fun.
Have a good day, I'll see you all later tonight or tomorrow.
Please play nice.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
[EDIT]: Another list circulating around the internet links Mo Vaughn and Jason Varitek with the Mitchell Report.
[EDIT]: First definitive names from ESPN: Clemens, Tejada, Paul LoDuca, Fernando Viña, Denny Neagle, Rondell White.
[EDIT]: Okay, the internet list was largely bogus. Add to the list, Ron Villone, Jason Grimsely, Mike Stanton. Still looking for Red Sox names, but 400 pages is a lot to read through, and I only have time to skim.
[EDIT]: I finally figured out you can do a search on Adobe.
Clemens, Pettitte, Justice, Knoblauch, Villone, Grimsley, Stanton, Neagle, Rondell White and a few others you may not remember.
Mo Vaughn, Manny Alexander, Eric Gagné, Mike Spinelli, Paxton Crawford, Josias Manzanillo, Roger Clemens, Mo Vaughn, Chris Donnels, Mike Lansing, Kent Mercker, Mike Stanton, Brendan Donnelly, Steve Woodard
So it seems that there is at least some anti-NY tint, though given the sources of McNamee and Radomski, that's not all that surprising.
All in all, I'm not terribly disappointed. Pettitte and Brian Roberts are the most disappointing names to me, though you may disagree.
However, the 'core' of Jeter-Rivera-Posada was not implicated, neither were Bernie Williams or Paul O'Neill, and neither is Alex Rodriguez.
There are some curious absences, such as Pudge Rodriguez, (maybe) David Ortiz, etc.
you can view the complete, accurate list here
Feel free to discuss this amongst yourselves and whatnot, but I have some Boccaccio and Petrarch to re-familiarize myself with, and about a foot of snow to shovel off my car. Two thirty PM and they still haven't plowed my road.
A reminder: The SPORTSTALKNY webcast is on tonight at nine, with guests Neil Best and Zack Hample. A link to the webcast can be found in posts below.
I will talk about, of course, the Mitchell Report and A-Rod finalizing his contract.
Dang, we're at the part of the year where they play Saturday games!
Anyway, seeing as there'll be something else to talk about later, here we go:
Denver over Houston. Denver gives me a better feeling inside.
Cincinnati over San Francisco. Come on now, another easy one.
Buffalo over Cleveland. Yeah, Cleveland won last week, but dude, you were playing the Jets.
Tennessee over Kansas City. Please don't disappoint again, Titans, I have more faith in you than that!
Green Bay over St Louis. Umm. Yeah.
Baltimore over Miami. 0-13? Dang, you lot make the Jets look good
Jets over New England. Because Irony is the spice of life and this'd be extra hot.
New Orleans over Arizona. Because my friend Dan is going to NO to work for Habitat over the break.
Jacksonville over Pittsburgh. Jacksonville has been playing much better than Pitt of late.
Tampa Bay over Atlanta. See St. Louis/Green Bay.
Seattle over Carolina. Seattle's a sleeper team.
Indianapolis over Oakland. At least Oakland's already exceeded expectations this year...
Dallas over Philadelphia. Easy pickings.
San Diego over Detroit. Remember how at the beginning of the season San Diego was bad and Detroit was good? Yea? Niether do I.
Giants over Washington, just cos it's the brother's birthday on Friday.
Minnesota over Chicago. Any team that willfully retains Rex Grossman ain't getting my pick.
Right, back later (as in, fourteen-ish hours) with more 'stuff', but first I have to sleep.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
If fate didn't love irony so much, I'd have my last final today, and not tomorrow evening, when the Mitchell Report is released.
Mitchell has planned a news conference for tomorrow (no time is given, so I hope it's in 'early afternoon' territory), and then the report will be released online on MLB.com afterwards.
I've already told you where I stand on this--Mitchell might be one of the most honest senators in government (and, by his track record, it looks like that), but Selig and MLB erred when they chose someone who is part of the front office for the Boston Red Sox. I am not saying this because I am a Yankee fan; the same conflict would exist if he was in a similar position with the Dodgers, Giants, Marlins, Cubs, Rangers...and yes, even Yankees.
Mitchell might be an honest man and the names in the report balanced among the 30 teams, but it's the concept of appointing him as head of the commission that is at fault.
If current or ex-Yankees are named at a greater rate than Red Sox, expect to hear considerable outcry. I would expect at least one former or current Red Sox athlete to be named; Mitchell will be crucified otherwise.
In other news, the Yankees are working on signing Robinson Canó and Chien Ming Wang; according to Pete Abraham, Wang would prefer a multi-year deal, but the Yankees are hesitant to do so.
Hopefully, the situation gets resolved before it gets nasty.
Andy Pettitte's deal has been finalized, which leaves A-Rod, Mo and new acquisition LaTroy Hawkins to be finalized.
Have to get some going-home preparations taken care of today; the SportstalkNY webcast will air Thursday evening this week. If you get a chance, click the link and look at the guest list...
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
First things first, since enough of you are asking:
I had two finals yesterday. I thought the first one would be easy and the second would be hard, so, of course, the first one was hard and the second one was easy. I know a lot more about Aerica and World War Two than I realized I did, and it came in very, very handy.
There is (for once, and maybe the only time this winter) not a whole heaping of news concerning the Yankees, but that does not mean there isn't news elsewhere. So, in case you haven't been paying too much attention, here are some of the bigger stories around the league:
Kosuke Fukudome to come Stateside. Fukudome is regarded as one of the best Japanese outfielders; interested teams include the Padres, White Sox and Chicago Cubs.
I'm not sure, but I believe the correct pronunciation of his surname would be something like 'Foo-koo-doh-may'. However, I've never studied Japanese, so I might not to be the one whose advice you take.
Paul Lo Duca agrees to one-year deal with Nationals. This now means that the Nats have taken Milledge, Lo Duca and Clippard, all from New York. It will...uh...be interesting to see how these moves pan out, especially the Milledge one, considering the Nats got him for almost nothing.
Gagné and Brewers finalize one-year $10 million contract. Well, if you honestly thought Gagné would stay in Boston after the disaster of last August and September...
At least, in the National League, Gagné will only see his old team either during interleague play or the World Series. It'll probably do him some good to be away from Boston.
Rangers set to add Bradley to line-up. Bradley, if you forgot, was the dude whose season came to an end last year after a rather interesting confrontation with an umpire...
The big news we are a-waiting is, of course, the release of the Mitchell Report, possibly Thursday. I am singularly amazed it hasn't already been linked.
Monday, December 10, 2007
So I'm not sure who it was that invented the concept of finals, but, oh man, I would so love to give that guy a good thwapping.
The SportstalkNY webcast that I am a part of is slated this week to start Thursday at nine, instead of Wednesday.
Well, it looks like our host, Mark, has got something awesome up his sleeve, because we've got guests!
> Neil Best from Newsday, and Zack Hample
If you don't know who these guys are, click on the links in the previous paragraph. It's pretty cool stuff.
I've got a final on Thursday from 7-9, so I might be a little late, but at the latest I'll be there by 9.30.
Anyway, on the Yankees' front:
You probably know by now the Yankees signed reliever LaTroy Hawkins to a one year deal; this may be a brilliant move or one of Cashman's worst, and since baseball is so unpredictable, we probably won't know until July or August, but the good news is that he's signed for one year. Thus, if he doesn't pan out in 2008, we have no Farnsworth/Pavano-ian obligation.
Though I have heard rumors of Japanese outfielder Fukudome (no, it's not pronounced like that) being interested in the Yankees, I haven't seen any confirmation. At any rate, the Yankees have a surplus of outfielders for 2008; if we were to sign Fukudome, it'd mean that we'd have one of Damon/Melky rotting in the bench. I could see us going after him if we had traded Melky, but we haven't (yet), so don't look for any new Japanese imports. At least, not in center field.
I wrote 6600 words on The Season over the weekend (which is about ten pages single-spaced or twenty pages doubled), which makes it one of the most successful weekends I've had. I look forward to sharing it with all of you...:-D
Sunday, December 9, 2007
Heh, if only you all knew how much writing 3500 words in a night is a catharsis...(they were not the ones you're about to read...they're the ones you're probably going to see between Christmas and New Year's)
(c) Rebecca Glass, All International copyright laws apply
The Season, Part Nine
Liam Laurens, trainer, fourth year
The injuries, minor or severe, always seem worse after a loss.
Liam Laurens has been an athletic trainer for fourteen years, and the Spartans’ trainer for four, and every year it’s the same thing. After a win, even the guys with injuries that will sideline them for most of the season feel as though they’re healthy enough to scale Everest. After a loss even the healthy young bench players like Kent and Eliot feel aches in their shoulders and everywhere else in their bodies.
When a loss comes on a day like today—the first home game of the season—it rips into even Liam’s bones, causing a dull ache that does not cease the entire time Liam is in the trainer’s room. There is little for Liam to feel good about—the Spartans lost to the California Diablos, a good team, by a score of seven to two. Paul Green’s first start did not go as planned; he did not make it out of the fourth inning, and the forty minute rain delay only exacerbated the situation. Never mind the balmy fifty-degree temperature or the nasty fall Bran took on the soggy centerfield grass. Normally, it’s not an issue as the Hope City baseball stadium has a retractable roof, but it’s an old roof and there have been problems trying to close it. Maintenance was supposed to fix it, but a strike over the winter by the union guys in Hope City meant that nothing got done, and thus the Spartans will likely play the entire year as if their stadium had no roof at all.
The trainer’s room at the Stadium looks just as bleak as a hospital ward; though there are no actual beds, there are multiple examination tables, multiple IV poles, and, of course, the overpowering smell of antiseptic. In fact, Liam would be lying to himself if he said he hadn’t seen hospital wards that were more cheerful. The décor doesn’t help much—the bare walls are painted black, with red and gold accents, just to differ the room from the adjacent weight room, which has gold walls with red and black accents. Before a game or after a win, there will be some sort of music coming through the speakers—usually some form of classic or alternative rock, but on occasion hip-hop or country—but after a loss, the room remains silent.
Sometimes Liam considers donning a Reaper costume after a loss, but his sense of humor has been labeled inappropriate in the past, so he keeps the idea to himself. At any rate, such a costume would look comical with Liam’s pudgy frame and balding head. If anything, Liam looks more suited to be a sportswriter, less the trench coat and the hat with the press credentials in the hat band.
It’s often a thankless job, being the trainer after a loss; no one will directly blame Liam for a loss, of course, but if, on the off chance someone gets hurt, even a little, then it is his fault, and only his fault. So when Liam makes his rounds, Pete’s with him, for moral support, as Pete calls it.
“Davis is going to be something,” Pete says, referring to the Diablos’ left fielder, as Liam is busy taping up Leo’s knee. It’s the sort of thing that Liam probably wouldn’t need to do after a win—there’s no noticeable injury, just Leo’s word that it aches.
“You think?” Geoff Davis first played last September, but has passed largely unnoticed, especially outside of the division. Liam’s heard the name maybe once before the game today, but he’s not surprised Pete knows it. Pete always seems to know things no one else does, but Liam guesses that’s part of being a manager.
“It’s not just what someone does that you need to look at, it’s how they do it.”
“What do you mean?” Liam’s interest is genuine, and it comes across as such. Leo’s heard this before, so he is in a separate universe, talking to Richie who is busy wrapping his shoulder.
“Davis only went one-for-three, but he walked twice and got three ball counts each at bat. Shows a good eye.”
“Ah.” Liam understands what Pete is saying—that it’s more important to show effort each at bat than just plain getting lucky—but he’s not sure that it’s something that can be gauged by one game, and he says at much. “Only one game, though.”
“Yes, but if Davis plays every at bat like he did today, it will pay off, and sooner rather than later.” There’s a certain tone in Pete’s voice that tells Liam that Pete would do a lot to get this kid on the Spartans, but that Charlie Haus is of a different mind, and it is, of course, Haus’s mind that matters.
“Ah, well, we’ve got a young center fielder that’s pretty good as well.” Liam laughs as he talks about Bran; he’s not an all star yet, but Bran is the best lead off man the Spartans have had in a long time.
“Yes,” Pete says, implying there’s more to be said, but not in front of Leo.
That’s enough of a clue for Liam to figure out that Pete is thinking of Geoff Davis playing left field, instead of Leo. Leo did not have the world’s greatest season last year, but Liam still thinks it’s a bit unfair. Leo has been playing for ten years, a long time, but in Liam’s mind he’s got a while to go before the term ‘washed up’ should begin to apply.
“Wasn’t Davis that killed us, though.” Liam and Pete make their way around the room, pausing so Liam can wrap someone’s knee or elbow, or otherwise make the loss seem a little less painful.
“No? Three run home runs do tend to do a lot of damage.”
“We were already down four-one at that point…”
“Three runs can be made up with one swing. Six can’t.”
“Okay, you have a point. How’s this for argument: we were killed today because we left eight men on base. Bottom third of our line up had an oh-fer.”
“Well, yes, that doesn’t help, but you win games with pitching. Paul gave up seven runs in four innings.”
“You don’t seemed too concerned about it,” Liam says, noting that Pete’s voice carries none of the concern it would have if it had been Micah or William pitching. The two of them somehow wind up in Pete’s office; it doesn’t matter where they start, they always end up here. Pete takes a seat in his large office chair, as though getting ready for a hoard of reporters. Liam stays standing; he feels more like an adult and less like a kid when he does so.
“Paul’s problem was his nerves. He couldn’t control half of his pitches because of the nerves.” Pete implies that the poor start was due only to it being Paul’s first, and that it would be unlikely Paul would have the same problems later on in the season.
“Did he say that?”
“Didn’t have to.”
“What did Steven say when you were on the mound?”
“Paul’s mechanics were okay, he can use a bit of work on his changeup, but that wasn’t the big issue. Too much adrenaline.”
“Ah. When does he start on the road?”
“At New York.” There is a loud silence after these words. A road start at New York, for a Hope City pitcher, is not much different then asking him to start game seven of the championship series. Actually, Liam muses, it’s more like asking a pitcher to parachute into a war zone with no armor or weaponry.
The Spartans/Knights rivalry is not as huge to those in New York City as is Knights/New England Tribe, but in Hope City, it is everything. Pete’s told Liam before, that when he was hired as manager, there were two goals for him to attain—win a Championship, and beat the Knights. In fact, Pete was told by Charlie Haus directly that it was more important for him to find a way to beat the Knights—a way to prove that the Spartans belonged in the same league. The all-time record was about even, but the perception was always that the Knights won, and, for the New York papers, anyway, it was the perception that mattered.
“You think he’s ready for New York?”
“Right now, if he doesn’t make the start, it’s Monty making the start.”
“Ah.” Liam remembers well enough that his first year with the Spartans was also Monty’s rookie year, and the disaster those few starts had prove to be—that year the Spartans went 5-19 in April, no doubt in part due to Monty’s 0-3 record. While 8-16 is hardly a much better way to start, it is again the perception that matters.
“We need another pitcher.” It comes out as a question.
“We need another pitcher.”
#7 Li Ming, pitcher, unsigned.
“We would like you to come play for our team in America.” The words are presented first in English, then garbled up in the head of the translator and spat back out in Mandarin.
Li Ming, dark-haired, tall, and dressed in a crisp, first-time-worn suit, ponders the words. He’s sitting at a table, next to the translator, directly across from an American man he’s only met for the first time a month ago. The man is middle-aged, with musty brown hair and large brown eyes, dressed in a white dress shirt and dress pants, and has a name Li can’t quite pronounce: Haus. They are all in a small, cramped room above Li’s father’s restaurant, Brendan having gotten the address from Li’s team’s manager.
The words coming from Brendan’s mouth sound ugly. They sound like someone trying to speak with a mouth full of water, capable of making nothing but hideous gulping noises.
Coming from the translator, however, the words seem as though they are descending from heaven. Come play in America. It’s not the idea of leaving China for a country Li’s only ever heard about in the news and through rumor; it’s the idea of playing for a professional league where he could make a salary beyond his dreams, enough to support not just his immediate family, but his extended family as well. Many of his family members thought he was wasting time, playing baseball when he could have joined his father in running a restaurant. Li doesn’t want to get his hopes up…but this man, Mr. Haus, does not seem like he is hiding anything.
“You want me to play in America?” Li asks in Mandarin; the words are recycled through the translator, and Brendan Haus waits patiently for the translator to finish.
“We would like you to come play for our team, yes. In Hope City.” The conversation continues like this, from Brendan to Li and back to Brendan through the translator.
“Where is Hope City?”
“It’s in New York.”
“By New York City?”
“A ways north and west from New York City, but only four hours by car.” Li ponders this for a moment. He knows very basic American geography—New York City is on the east coast, Los Angeles is in California on the west coast, Florida is in the south. He is a fast learner, though, so he thinks when he gets home tonight he’ll take out his father’s old atlas and look up the exact location of Hope City. Thinking about his father spurs on another question.
“What about my family?”
“What about your family?”
“Can they come to America as well?”
“Certainly. I mean, I can’t guarantee them jobs, but with what we’re prepared to pay you, I’m not sure that’s going to be much of a concern.”
“What are you…” Li feels odd completing the question. He’s never really worried about his salary before; it’s never been much, but it’s always been enough. He knows enough about baseball in America to know that what Brendan might offer could be beyond his comprehension, but he also knows that not all baseball men are that generous, and he could be offering him something well below league minimum.
“We are prepared to offer three million dollars, American, over three years.” There is a tense silence as the translator exchanges the English words for Mandarin ones, but the translator’s voice perks up when he translates the word million.
“Three million dollars?” Li is so stunned by the offer that he comes off sounding as though he is disappointed in it.
“Yes. I know it’s not what we would normally pay for someone that’s been professional for a while, but we’ve never tried to sign a Chinese player before, so it’s a bit of a risk for us, because we don’t know how you will do against our league. We’ve been keeping an eye on you for a while, though, and it’s a risk we are prepared to take.” It takes a while for the words to be translated, and it takes longer for Li to comprehend them, before he realizes that the confusion is because Brendan thinks Li is insulted.
“Sir,” Li says, deferential, “Three million dollars is no small salary. I am very grateful for this opportunity, but I need to talk to my family first.”
“That is understandable,” Brendan says, “but my brother, Charlie, would like a decision as soon as possible. The Spartans need a pitcher badly.” Brendan doesn’t add that he doesn’t want any of the other teams—teams with much deeper pockets—to get a chance to make an offer to Li.
“How can I let you know?”
“Your manager has my phone number. I am supposed to go back to the United States in two weeks, but I can delay up to a week.” Brendan stands up, signaling that the meeting is over, and Li and the translator do the same. Li extends his hand, the handshake being the gesture his manager had told him to be sure to get down pat before meeting Brendan. “I hope to hear from you soon.”
Li finds that his legs are not quite as strong as they usually are as he tries to walk down the stairs to his father’s restaurant. Three million dollars. Three million. It’s a number he can hardly comprehend. Sure, he’s read about players in America getting twenty-five million or fifty million dollar contracts, but they’re professional superstars. He’s not very well known outside of his league. Three million dollars is more than enough to pay for anything he could possibly want, more than enough to pay for anything his family—his father, his mother, his grandmother, his aunt, his sister and his brother—could want, either.
Li’s father is at the front of the restaurant, looking over the menu as a painter might a portrait. He’s dressed in a business suit as crisp as Li’s; it’s his best one. He did accomplish his goal of getting Brendan Haus to try some of his food—duck, as it was—but he could tell that Brendan was not that enthused by it. It wasn’t anything personal, though Li’s father has no way of knowing, just that Brendan Haus has a weak stomach and does not enjoy spicy food.
“Father,” Li says, softly. If his father is so enveloped in studying the menu, the worst thing Li can do is to draw his father violently out of his dream state. His father picks his head up slowly, as if awakening after a decade-long coma.
“Yes?” Li can see the apprehension on his father’s wrinkled, calloused face.
“Mr. Haus has offered me three million dollars to play baseball in America.”
“He also said you are welcome to come.”
“No, everyone.” Li can tell his father is mulling it over, though his father’s expression remains blank. His father has obviously thought about this scenario before, and come to his own decision, and now seems to be attempting to confirm it.
“I can’t leave the restaurant.”
“You wouldn’t come?”
“What would happen to the restaurant? It is my life; I can’t just leave it. I know baseball means so much to you, so you should go. You have a chance to live your dream. Three million…you would be a fool not to take it.” Li’s father speaks in a soft, measured, patient voice. The sincerity in his eyes tells Li more than the actual words he says.
“What about everyone else?”
“We can sort that out later.” Meaning, Li thinks, that it’s not a topic his father wants to consider, at all. “As I said, you would be a fool not to go.”
Li does not respond, but instead nods. His father’s approval would not get much more explicit than that, but Li hadn’t realized how much the idea of him going on his own, without his father or his family, would make him hesitate.
He leaves the restaurant without knowing what he wants to do and starts walking down to the baseball field on which he first played. By the time he reaches the field, old, weedy, caked with mud, but still inviting to the young boys playing an impromptu game on it, he’s made his decision.
After the game, he delights the boys by asking them what the think of America, and if they would ever consider visiting a place called Hope City.
#3 Graeme Johnson, pitcher, eleventh year
Graeme Johnson is not like most of the other Texans he knows--even though he was born in a suburb of Dallas, he has no pride in his home state. Texas is football country, and Graeme Johnson was unlucky enough to be partially responsible for his high school team losing the championship game his sophomore year. He decided to pursue only baseball after his inability to recover a fumble, but in Texas the glory goes to the guys on the gridiron. Everyone knows that.
It is thus, perhaps, no great surprise that when Graeme pitches at home, against the Texas Stampede, on the first day that the temperature has risen above fifty degrees, that he does so with a little extra, playoff-like effort. Pete, Dennis and Richie have been around long enough to notice it, and Ben picked up on it the very first season he caught Graeme. Every time they ask him if he wouldn’t consider putting forth that effort against all other teams, and every time Graeme replies that he simply doesn’t have the hatred for the other teams he has for anything related to or coming from his home state.
Muscular, Graeme has the body of a Greek god, but he’s also got a rough, dark blond, bearded face that is much more reminiscent of the barbarian tribes. Family legend says that Graeme’s ancestors were among the Saxon raiders that settled in England, but Graeme’s never been much of a history student, so it means next to nothing to him. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how to use his looks, however; he is perfectly capable of scaring the shit out of a rookie on the opposing team just by looking at him in a certain way.
This is, of course, what Graeme is in the middle of doing, right now. The Stampede’s vaunted rookie third baseman, Derrick Hull, in his first at bat, has looked straight at strike one and strike two. He hasn’t flinched, hasn’t lifted the bat off of his shoulder, but Graeme thinks that he’s shaking, just a little bit. He can see it in the rookie’s knees. Graeme knows Derrick Hull is going to swing at the next pitch, just because he has to prove to the world that he is not utterly intimidated, but, even so, Graeme takes care when signaling to Ben that he wants to throw the pitch low instead of “climbing the ladder”. At least then, if Derrick does make contact, it’s much more likely to be a ground ball than a fly ball. Ground balls can never be home runs, and the score, at 1-0 Spartans in the third inning, is not something with which Graeme is anxious to toy around. Though Graeme has faced the minimum it’s not a no-hitter; the lead off man in the second inning singled, and was then caught stealing.
Graeme pitches, a slider after two fastballs, and as he expects, the rookie swings wildly and misses. Derrick Hull swings so wild, in fact, that the bat itself goes flying towards the on deck circle where the on-deck batter has to do the high jump to avoid getting hit. There is a ‘whoa’ from the crowd, followed by the hint of giggling and laughter, and then, finally, applause as the inning is now over. Ben waits for Graeme to come off the mound as they jog to the dugout together.
“Now that was funny,” Ben laughs.
“Glad you think so.”
“You know, it’s so true…”
“What?” The two take a seat at the far end of the bench; Graeme wears his jacket on his right arm, while Ben doesn’t bother removing the catcher’s gear, as he’s due up eighth. If it gets to the point where Adrian is on deck, he’ll remove it then.
“You pitch better against Texas.”
“I think you’ve said that every time I pitch against them.” Graeme laughs.
“Yes, well, it’s true. You shouldn’t deny it.”
“Okay, then, why is your ERA against these guys zero?”
“It’s not zero.”
“Well, it’s low.” Ben laughs as well. The two have been friends long enough that Ben knows Graeme will be well familiar with his ERA against any team in the league, especially New York, New England and, for Graeme, Texas.
“It’s not that low.”
“It’s under two.” It’s a guess, but only Ben and Graeme would know that.
“Barely,” Graeme admits. It’s hard to tell, because Graeme burns easily, but Ben thinks he sees his friend blush just a bit.
“Right. You have an ERA under two against one team, and you’ve been pitching for eleven years, is it? That’s freak-of-nature territory.”
“You think I’m a freak of nature?” Graeme has a broad grin on his face, and it’s caught by the TV cameras. He’ll see it later when he watches the game replay on the Hope City Sports station, and his only thought will be that he really needs to start keeping his dental appointments. “Do yah?”
“Well…when you have that sort of ERA after pitching that long…it certainly isn’t normal.”
“Okay, then, what team do you hit best against?”
“Kansas City. Easy.” It is easy. Graeme knows it well.
“Well, if we ignore the fact that Kansas City doesn’t know how to pitch worth a damn and that their park is like a silo, what’s your average?”
“Last time I checked…four-seventy.” Now Graeme catches Ben blushing a little bit. Ben’s a decent hitter—good enough to hit fifth in the line up and smack thirty home runs in a season—but having been considered for an MVP the season before last, with an average of .340, the .470 stands out even more.
“Right. So we all have one team we rake against.”
“Yes…but…everyone hits Kansas City. It isn’t that unusual. I hit the same way I do in any park, but Kansas City is so small all the fly outs turn into home runs or doubles off the wall. You don’t pitch the same against Texas.”
“If you hate a team enough, it’s not that hard.”
“So why don’t you pitch like this against New York?”
“Because no one in New York ever failed me in gym class because I slipped in the mud and couldn’t recover a fumble.” Graeme sighs, knowing he’s told this over and over, but it never seems to fail to amaze those to whom he tells it.
“There are some that argue you should pitch for Denver,” Ben says, making reference to the rather bitter Stampede-Mustang rivalry which started when Denver won two Championships back-to-back while Texas lost both times, and then signed Texas’ best player as a free agent.
“They did try to sign me. When I was a free agent a few years ago, they offered me five years for seventy.”
“They actually offered it?”
“Yes. Had a sit-down with the agent and everything.” Graeme never really had any intention of leaving Hope City, so Denver’s pursuit of him was mostly treated as unfounded rumor by the media. Pete and Charlie Haus knew, but they were the only ones. Ben was a rookie at the time and the two weren’t that close, otherwise Graeme knows, he would have told Ben.
“You turned it down? Five years, seventy million, and you turned it down to pitch in Hope City instead?”
“HC might be an abyss, but the team’s not. We’re always in the running, have a manager that’ll probably die before leaving the team, good fans, and, a team that doesn’t have anywhere close to the ego issues Denver’s got. Besides, it’s farther away from Texas than Denver is.” Graeme laughs at the last bit, though Ben seems a bit stunned.
Truth is, there aren’t many all-star level players that would choose, as free agents, to remain in Hope City. The city is freezing in the winter, dangerous anywhere not in a suburb (even the Stadium is located out of the ‘downtown’ area), there’s some money for the players but rarely enough for guys on a second or third contract, and as long as they play in the same state as the New York Knights, they are always the underdog.
Graeme stays in Hope City for one reason. Sure, being this far from Texas has its advantages, but the real reason he stays in Hope City is simpler: He knows how Hope City changes in the spring and the summer, when the Spartans can offer the fans an escape from the drudgery of their normal lives. The city fills itself with the hope that, well, Graeme thinks as he and Ben take the field for the next inning, if the Spartans can win, maybe their city isn’t so bad after all, maybe it isn’t quite a ghost city, a rust-belt town.
STANDINGS AT THE END OF APRIL
New England Tribe: 12-5
New York Knights: 11-6
Hope City Spartans: 10-7
Florida ‘Canes: 8-9
Washington Sox: 6-11
Minnesota Berserkers: 13-4
Chicago Lakemen: 12-5
Cleveland Rivermen: 12-5
St. Louis Gold: 10-7
Memphis Jazz: 9-8
Detroit Moose: 5-12
California Diablos: 14-3
Seattle ‘Nauts: 11-6
Denver Mustang: 8-9
Texas Stampede: 7-10
Kansas City ‘Nadoes: 5-12